Senior figures in the tourism industry believe that the recovery in 2022 could bring back 60 per cent of the number of international visitors that came in 2019, the last full pre-pandemic season for the sector when more than 9.7 million international visitors arrived.
The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (Itic), the umbrella lobby group for the sector, estimated that international arrivals for February were more than 40 per cent down on the number for 2019, based on figures provided to it by carriers, sea ports and airports. It warned, however, that official State data on the tourism sector is currently limited and it raised concerns about the potential impact of this on policymaking.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO), which normally collates accurate data on visitor numbers gleaned from in-person surveys carried out at ports and airports, suspended this activity during the pandemic and has yet to recommence it. It has been suggested to the industry that it could be after the summer before the CSO relaunches its series of port surveys.
In the meantime, Itic said it would continue to make its own estimates of international arrivals in the absence of State data. The lobby group on Wednesday relaunched its monthly tourism dashboard in association with AIB, which gives a statistical snapshot of the sector, tracking indicators such as arrivals, employment and hotel occupancy rates.
The dashboard for February suggests that about 44,000 visitors from America arrived to Ireland last month, a reduction of 48 per cent on the numbers for 2019. It estimates a 40 per cent drop in British visitors, to 152,000, while numbers from the rest of Europe were down 35 per cent on 2019 levels.
Itic said overall numbers at Dublin Airport were down 34 per cent on 2019 levels, while the number of passengers travelling by ferry was down by 40 per cent.
Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, Itic’s chief executive, said a recovery to 60 per cent of 2019 levels would be “no mean feat” given the “mauling” the sector had received in 2020 and 2021.
“The situation is so volatile at the moment. The big question is whether the war in Ukraine will spook some markets and whether the spike in oil prices would have a major impact on fares,” he said. Itic also said the labour shortage in tourism could hamper its recovery.
He said the anecdotal feedback from tourism businesses for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations last week suggested many in the sector were “delighted” with how it went.
“There were a lot of American accents about,” said Mr O’Mara Walsh. He said many of those bookings would have been made months ago, however, and it is unclear if the momentum will be affected by fears among US visitors of war in Europe.
Many accommodation providers remain optimistic, however. Sean O’Driscoll, the chief executive of the iNua Collection hotel group, told Itic this month that it was “pleasantly surprised” with how quickly bookings are returning.
He said the group, whose 10 hotels includes Muckross Park in Kerry and the Fairways in Dundalk, expects occupancy through April to be down just 10 per cent on 2019 levels, and later in the season, the gap may narrow to 5 per cent.