Slump in visitor numbers continues


The tourism sector is likely to have seen about a million fewer overseas visitors in 2009, according to the latest travel data, which reveal the stark impact of the recession on the industry.

The figures for November, published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) today, show overseas visits to Ireland fell by 881,200 (12 per cent) in the first 11 months of the year compared to the same period in 2008.

There were 6.4 million trips from abroad in the year to the end of November compared with 7.3 million visits the previous year.

The figures bear out the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation's gloomy prediction that the industry would see a fall-off in visitor numbers of one million by the end of the year.

Visitor numbers from Britain, the State's main tourism market, accounted for most of the decline, falling 16.1 per cent (582,000) to 3.02 million.

Trips to Ireland from mainland Europe declined by 9.3 per cent (227,000) to 2.2 million, while US visitors dropped by 2.6 per cent (24,500) to 925,800.

The data showed trips to Ireland by overseas residents for the month of November plummeted 15.6 per cent to 421,200 from a year earlier.

Visitor numbers from Britain for the month were down by 19.3 per cent to 210,800 while those from mainland Europe fell by 17.2 per cent to 140,800.

Trips abroad by Irish residents in November were 464,200, down over 8 per cent on the same period in 2008.

The figures showed overseas trips by Irish residents fell by 10.2 per cent (754,200) to 6.6 million in the year to November.

Eamonn McKeon of ITIC said the figures were in line with the group’s end of year forecast for a drop of approximately one million visitors for the year, which corresponds to a fall-off of ¤1 billion in revenue.

Mr McKean said ITIC was still forecasting “modest growth” in the State’s main markets in 2010 on the back on an upswing in the global economy.

“One encouraging sign is the strengthening of the dollar and sterling against the euro which is good for tourism,” he added.

Fáilte Ireland's Alex Connolly admitted 2009 was a "disastrous year" for the sector, saying industry numbers were now back at 2004 levels.

But he said a recent survey by Fáilte Ireland’s had revealed "a gradual sense of optimism" returning to the sector, with many businesses believing the worst may now be over.

"While the large drop in the numbers of Irish people travelling abroad is not good news for the carriers, it does represent a potential for the home holiday market," he said.

Fine Gael's tourism spokeswoman Olivia Mitchell said the figures confirmed that 2009 was "a dead loss for Irish tourism".

"The fact that these figures are released on the very day that Irish airports are shutting down due to an unwarranted air traffic controllers strike highlights the major problems Irish tourism faces," Ms Mitchell said.