Ryanair and sterling helped to boost Northern tourism in 2016

Latest figures show 11 per cent uplift in spending last year

Titanic Belfast, one of the North’s most popular tourist destinations Photograph: iStock

Titanic Belfast, one of the North’s most popular tourist destinations Photograph: iStock


The arrival of a new Ryanair base at Belfast International Airport, combined with a sharp drop in sterling last year, helped to boost tourism spending in the North by 11 per cent to £851 million (€983 million) in 2016.

Annual tourism statistics published by the NI Statistics and Research Agency on Thursday show the availability of new Ryanair routes to various destinations in the UK and Europe helped attract tourists to the North.

The North’s now world-famous association with the hit television series Game of Thrones may also have provided a benefit, according to the latest statistics.

The figures show that some two million hotel room nights were sold during 2016, lifting hotel room occupancy to 70 per cent.

There was also a jump in the number of cruise ships that docked in Northern Ireland ports last year – a total of 93 cruise ships included the North in their itineraries, 26 more than the previous year, bringing with them 152,000 passengers and crew.

Overnight trips

Overall it is estimated there were 4.6 million “overnight trips” taken in Northern Ireland last year. Some 44 per cent, or two million of these were internal trips involving, for example, a Derry resident travelling to Belfast for the weekend. Some 1.4 million overnight trips were made by people living in Britain and just less than 10 per cent, or 500,000, were made by residents of the Republic.

The number of overnight trips to the North in total by external visitors last year is the highest number on record.

The latest statistics show that there were about 15 million visits to the top tourists attractions in the North, with the Giant’s Causeway enjoying top billing with 944,000 visitors and Titanic Belfast coming second place with 667,000 visitors.

Top Northern tourist attractions by visitor numbers (2016)

1. Giant’s Causeway: 944,000 visitors

2. Titanic Belfast: 667,000

3. Ulster Museum: 460,00

4. Carrick-a-Rede: 440,000

5. Derry’s Walls: 403,000

6. W5: 370,000

Source: NI Statistics & Research Agency