FOLLOWING yet another successful year in 2017, which saw the number of overseas visitors to Ireland grow to 9.25 million in the 11 months from January to November – an increase of 330,000 over the same period the previous year – our tourism industry has good reason to celebrate, having defied the odds by attracting more extra visitors than those we lost from Britain. At the start of the year, there were great fears about the extent of the inevitable loss of visitors from the UK in the wake of the Brexit decision which saw the value of sterling decline sharply against the euro, giving them less value for money here.
The 5.2% drop in British visitor numbers is still very serious, despite the fact that it was more than compensated for by increases of 16.6% from the US market and 5.5% from mainland Europe, giving a net increase of 3.7% overall. The Irish tourism industry is now worth an estimated €8.7 billion, with €6.5 billion of this coming from overseas tourism.
In this context, the 5.2% fall in visitor numbers from the UK is quite a significant loss to the Irish economy and it is good to note that this is recognised by Fáilte Ireland, who are working on various initiatives to stem and perhaps even reverse this decline. One downside for the domestic tourism market here is that the currency differential now makes breaks in Great Britain and Northern Ireland more attractive to people from the Republic.
The increase in visitors to Ireland from the US market was very timely, boosted by the more airlines offering transatlantic flights to the country, with Cork Airport having its first scheduled direct flights from there for the second half of 2017, bringing visitors directly into the local region.
However, as Irish Tourism Industry Confederation chairman Maurice Pratt warned, we cannot become complacent. Our growth in tourism numbers is based on competitiveness, which is the key to ongoing success.