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Cross-Border tourism between Republic and North triples in decade, says report

Titanic Belfast and Game of Thrones among the attractions that make the North an easier ‘sell’

Cross-Border tourism between Northern Ireland and the Republic has more than tripled in a decade, according to new research.

Titanic Belfast and Game of Thrones are among the attractions that make the North an easier “sell” to international buyers and local tour operators, but it still lags well behind the South for overnight hotel stays.

Almost half of Northern Ireland’s visitors stay with friends and family, a much higher rate than visitors to the Republic.

The Tourism on the island of Ireland report, published on Wednesday, found that the industry is supporting more than 300,000 jobs and providing almost €17 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the economy.

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Over 1.3 million cross-Border visits were made to the North in 2023, compared to almost 400,000 in 2013.

International visits in the period 2013-2019 grew by 33 per cent in Northern Ireland and 46 per cent in the Republic.

Dublin had the largest number of international holiday-makers followed by destinations in the southwest and west of Ireland. Northern Ireland was visited by 15 per cent of overseas visitors in a combination with either the Dublin or Border region.

The joint research by Ulster University’s economic policy centre and Dublin City University warned of “performance gaps” that have led to a greater economic impact for the Republic, with long-haul visitors in particular spending fewer nights in the North.

Visitors from Britain are “crucial to both parts of the island”, according to the report, but the scale is different as they make up two-thirds of visitors to the North compared to one-third in the Republic.

The analysis also found that trips by the Republic’s residents to Northern Ireland have increased dramatically over the past decade, from an average of less than 100,000 per quarter in 2013 to more than 300,000 in 2023.

There was a sharp rise in cross-Border visits in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, with over 200,000 cross-Border trips per quarter.

The Republic had approximately 4.3 times as many trips by international visitors compared to Northern Ireland in 2019, but 7.6 times as much expenditure totalling €4,874 million in the Republic and €672 million in the North.

Prof John Doyle, vice-president for research at Dublin City University, said the analysis “highlights a real opportunity for economic growth, for businesses to grow their income and profitability, and for better wages in the sector”.

“Co-operation will benefit both parts of the island, but given the more developed tourism industry in the Republic it should benefit Northern Ireland to a much greater extent. In order to close the gap with the Republic public policy needs to move beyond the current levels of co-operation to build a single tourism offering in marketing, visa-requirements, tax and regional development policy, and, perhaps most crucially, in the perception of the visitor.”

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times