Tourist numbers increased 7% in 2011

 

FINAL FIGURES for the end of this year are expected to show a 10 per cent increase in visitors from continental Europe, an 8 per cent rise in numbers coming from North America, and a 5 per cent rise in British tourists.

Confirming unexpectedly good news for the sector, tourism in Ireland returned to growth in 2011 after three “most horrific” years for the sector, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation said.

The number of overseas visitors increased by an overall 7 per cent this year, the first increase since 2007, which was a record year for the tourism industry.

The recovery is largely due to a rise in visitors from the “big four” – Britain, the US, France, and Germany – the countries from which 80 per cent of visitors to Ireland come, the confederation said.

Growth was strongest in the earlier part of the year, with a dip in the last three months, which the confederation attributes to the debt ceiling crisis in the US and growing uncertainty over the future of the euro.

While the 2011 figures indicated a turnaround for the industry, they followed several years of declining visitor numbers, confederation chief executive Eamonn McKeon said.

He added that 2008, 2009 and 2010 were “the three most horrific years the industry has ever experienced”.

In 2007 overseas visitor numbers reached just over 7.74 million; by 2010 this figure had fallen to 5.86 million.

The final figure for the end of this year is expected to stand at 6.29 million.

Despite the economic uncertainty in the US this year, the number of tourists from North America (including Canada) had almost returned to 2007 levels.

In 2007 there were just over 1.07 million North American visitors; this year that figure is expected to stand at 910,000, following a particularly strong demand for coach tours.

The Government’s decision to reduce the VAT rate from 13.5 per cent to 9 per cent on most labour-intensive tourism services was “crucial” to the industry’s recovery in helping to restore competitiveness, confederation chairman John Healy said.

The industry had also shown it could be a significant contributor to the economic recovery of the State as a whole, with 6,000 tourism jobs created in the last six months, Mr Healy said.

The upturn was not experienced evenly across the State, however, the confederation said.

Dublin businesses reported an increase in tourist numbers, with hotel occupancy and rates achieved up on last year.

The so-called honey pot areas of Galway and Killarney had also reported better returns than in 2010.

In contrast, businesses in many other parts of the Republic continued to struggle to remain viable, with some areas not seeing increased visitor numbers.

Donegal and the Northwest in general had seen no real improvement, Mr Healy said.

“While the number of visitors is increasing, people are coming for a shorter length of time. So while Dublin is successful in terms of attracting people for short city breaks, unless you have people for 10 days you can’t really include the northwest.”

The industry had sustained some criticism for focusing too much on existing markets and not exploiting new markets in emerging economies in Asia and Latin American, but opportunities to secure visitors from these regions were limited in the short term, Mr McKeon said.

He added that while it was easy to get excited at the thought of 32 million Chinese going on holidays, the reality was that most of them would holiday at home.

“We need to look at countries like China or Brazil for the long term, but it will be three to five years before we see any increase in numbers from these areas,” Mr McKeon said.

Growth in visitor numbers from Sweden, Australia and New Zealand was likely to be a more realistic prospect in the coming years, he added.

TOURISTS VISITING IRELAND THE 2011 NUMBERS

10%increase in numbers visiting from continental Europe

8%increase in numbers visiting from North America

5%increase in numbers visiting from Britain

80%percentage of visitors from the “big four” – Britain, the US, France and Germany

6.29mnumber of visitors in 2011

5.86mnumber of visitors in 2010

7.74mnumber of visitors in 2007