Tourism sector still underperforming pre-Covid levels, says CSO

‘Real shortfall in foreign resident visitors’ in August compared with 2019

Irish holidaymakers appear to be travelling abroad more than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic while the number of foreign visitors to the Republic is yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has said.

Of the almost 2.2 million people who departed from the Republic in August, some 737,600, or 33.6 per cent, were foreign residents completing their trip, up from 650,200 in July, according to CSO data published on Tuesday. Irish residents travelling abroad accounted for 55 per cent of overseas journeys in the month while foreign visitors who arrived and departed on the same day accounted for the remaining 11.4 per cent.

The inbound tourism data set, based on numbers reported by airport authorities and ferry operators, is a new series the statistics agency has introduced this year.

Gregg Patrick, a statistician in the CSO’s tourism and travel division, cautioned against comparing the data with pre-Covid releases because the methodology has changed “considerably”.


However, he said that while the overall level of overseas travel in August 2023 is very similar to August 2019 at approximately 2.2 million passengers, “the proportion of Irish resident travellers picked up by our surveys appears to have shifted significantly”.

Mr Patrick said: “In August 2019, some 45 per cent of all passengers departing overseas were Irish residents. In August 2023, this percentage was 55 per cent. On face value, it appears that Irish residents are travelling abroad more than in the past and there are less incoming foreign residents. This suggests that the sector is still underperforming compared to 2019, with foreign visitor numbers down from 1.2 million to [700,000].”

How much of this change is driven by methodological changes rather than changes in consumer behaviour is unclear, he said. “However, I doubt very much that methodological changes alone would account for differences of this magnitude. Therefore, I think we are seeing a real change in tourism activity and a real shortfall in foreign resident visitors.”

Record-breaking wet weather in July dampened consumer spending during the typically busy period for tourism, with general retail sales declining 0.8 per cent in July, the CSO said in a previous release.

Bar and pub spending, down 5.5 per cent in the month, suffered the worst percentage drop-off in sales in July. Bar sales volumes were down 2.7 per cent in the 12 months to the end of July.

Many Irish holidaymakers headed abroad to escape the weather, with Dublin Airport recording its busiest ever day on Sunday, July 30th.

Anecdotally, the situation improved in August but tourism industry figures have bemoaned a decline in inbound visitors from Germany and Britain this year against the backdrop of soaring inflation and weak economic performance in both key markets.

Of 737,600 foreign resident overnight visitors who departed the Republic in August, some 35.2 per cent were from Britain, 19.3 per cent were from the United States, and 7.8 per cent were from France, the CSO said.

Foreign visitors typically stayed for an average of 9.9 nights, spending an average of €1,351 on their trip, “comprising €356 on fare, €62 on prepayments, €428 on accommodation, and €505 on day-to-day expenditure”, Mr Patrick said.

The total expenditure by foreign resident overnight visitors on their trips to Ireland was €996.1 million, up from €875.4 million in July, according to the data.

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times