Tourism numbers up 7% as The Gathering exceeds expectations

All-Ireland tourism bodies expecting 2014 to be a successful year for the tourism industry

A member of the Notre Dame cheerleading squad is held aloft in Dublin’s Temple Bar ahead of their American footbal match against Navy in September. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

A member of the Notre Dame cheerleading squad is held aloft in Dublin’s Temple Bar ahead of their American footbal match against Navy in September. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Tue, Dec 17, 2013, 14:35

Tourism Ireland has reported a 7 per cent rise in visitor numbers for the island of Ireland, the best since the global economic crisis began.

Some eight million visitors came to Ireland this year generating €3.64 billion in revenue. Some 6.8 million people visited the Republic, while 1.7 million visitors visited the North. Some 500,000 people visited both parts of the country.

The figures have been bouyed by a record number of visitors from North American, Germany, France and Spain along with Australia and New Zealand. However, the British market remains substantially down on its peak in 2007, despite numbers being up by 7 per cent this year.

The United States has proved to be the biggest engine of growth with Ireland attracting a million US visitors for the first time. The Navy-Notre Dame game, which attracted 50,000 visitors to Ireland in September, was the biggest single draw last year.

US visitor numbers were boosted by an increase of 26 per cent in the number of airline seats between the US and Ireland for the peak summer season.

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said The Gathering had “exceeded all our expectations” though it will be the New Year before figures become clearer.

“It looks like that figure will be exceeded comfortably by year end and even the figures for Dublin Airport for November are up by 7 per cent. We expect 2014 to be something positive like that as well.”

Bouyed by an improving world economy, Tourism Ireland, which markets the island of Ireland, believes that Ireland can achieve an average of 8.9 million visitors per year by 2016.

Next year will see new flights from San Francisco, Toronto, mainland Europe and Great Britain with Ryanair adding nine new routes from April while also increasing the frequency on eight new routes.

In addition there will be new Irish Ferries sailings from Holyhead and Cherbourg while LD Lines will launch a sailing from St Nazaire linking with Gijón in northern Spain to Rosslare.

Mr Gibbons said the best prospect for growth in tourism numbers will come from North America and continental Europe, as visitors from those regions tend to stay longer and spend more money. British visitors tend only to stay an average of four and a half days.

He revealed that the value for money ranking for Ireland from North American and continental visitors is the best it has been for 10 years. This is led by the hotel sector, with Irish hotels being rated the third cheapest in Europe. However, Mr Gibbons conceded they received “negative feedback” over the price of alcoholic drinks.

To replace The Gathering, the focus on promotion will be on promoting the Wild Atlantic Way, a 250 kilometre route from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal to Kinsale in Co Cork.

The Limerick City of Culture, the ’Grande Partenza’ of the Giro d’Italia cycling race and the Croke Park classic between the University of Central Florida and Penn State will be the focus for foreign visitors next year.