Cities benefit most from rise in tourism


The Dublin tourism market continued to expand in 2005 but growth in rural Ireland was "static", according to an end-of-year review by industry representatives.

The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC) said international visitor numbers grew by an estimated 5 per cent this year, to almost 6.7 million.

However, the capital benefited mostly from the rise due to a shift in European visitor trends towards short-stay city-breaks, and away from long-stay holidays.

Eamonn McKeon, chief executive of the confederation, said he didn't believe Dublin had benefited at the cost of rural areas. But it had outperformed the rest of the country.

In the west and south, however, urban areas - like Cork, Limerick and Galway - had seen some growth, said Mr McKeon, who cited the positive influence of new Ryanair routes to Shannon and Aer Lingus services to Cork.

"The more direct air services into the regions the more rapidly you are likely to turn it around," he said. "Rural tourism is being powered at the moment by the domestic market. In the west, 64 per cent of bed nights are generated by domestic travellers."

This, he said, left rural Ireland vulnerable to a major shock if there was a downturn in the economy. "You don't want to be dependent for two-thirds of your business on any one market."

In its 2005 report, the confederation estimated that visitor traffic from Britain rose by 3 per cent on the previous year, while the number of visitors from mainland Europe rose by 16 per cent.

Visitor traffic from North America showed little change, while other markets saw a 9 per cent drop, according to the confederation's estimates, which were based on CSO figures to the end of October combined with industry statistics.

Car rental firms reported growth of around 5 per cent, and coach operators double this. In contrast, ferry operators said they were continuing to lose market share to airlines, with a further annual decline of 5-10 per cent in in-bound tourists bringing their cars to Ireland.

Among the other trends identified this year were:

A fall-off in the number of visitors coming for activity holidays;

A shortening of the average length of stay in the country by "time-poor" visitors;

Continued growth in direct bookings, particularly via the internet.

Confederation chairwoman Catherine Reilly said the unequal distribution of growth in the regions remained "an urgent industry priority". Among other key objectives identified for 2006 were the significant up-scaling of web-based marketing; continued expansion of low fares air access; and extending stays in rural areas.

The confederation predicted growth of 2.2 per cent in the British market next year, 8 per cent in mainland Europe and North America, and 7.9 per cent in all other areas, bringing annual visitor numbers to seven million in 2006.