Tourist trips to Ireland slumped by a fifth in the first six months of the year as the difficult period for our beleaguered tourism industry showed no sign of ending.
The sharpest drop-off was in visitor numbers from Britain, which are down by over 350,000 so far this year. Tourism Ireland said yesterday that restoring growth in the British market was now one of its top priorities.
However, there was a faint glimmer of hope with the news that the rate of decline in British visitors slowed in June — falling by just 3pc compared to a 20pc drop for the same month a year earlier. Overall, 2.6 million foreign visitors travelled to Ireland in the first six months of the year, down from 3.3 million for the same period in 2009.
According to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office, in June alone the number of trips to Ireland fell by almost 6pc to 600,300 compared to the same month in 2009. Trips by people from European countries other than Britain were down by just over 14pc to 187,900.
There was some good news, however, with the lucrative North American market showing a slight recovery. Visitor numbers from the US and Canada were up 1.4pc, while the number of travellers coming from other long-haul destinations such as Australia, South Africa, Japan and the Middle East were up 4.1pc.
Meanwhile, cash-strapped Irish tourists are taking fewer foreign holidays this summer and are staying at home instead.
Some 657,200 overseas trips were made by Irish travellers in June, compared to almost 710,000 in the same month last year. It continues a steady downward trend that began in the summer of 2008 as Ireland became the first eurozone country to enter recession.
Irish people took just over 3.1 million foreign trips in the first six months of the year, down almost 10pc from 3.4 million in the same period in 2009.
Commenting on the figures, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin maintained it appeared things were “turning around” for the sector and noted in particular the increase in visitor numbers from North America and other long-haul destinations.
“Visitors from these markets are particularly important as they tend to book well in advance, stay longer and spend more than visitors from nearer markets who are on shorter breaks.” She added that Failte Ireland has undertaken its biggest ever domestic marketing campaign this year in a bid to encourage more Irish holidaymakers to stay at home.
Ms Hanafin said the Government’s newly formed expert group charged with boosting competitiveness in the tourism industry would meet for the first time next month.
Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said 2010 continued to be an “extremely difficult” year.
“However it is important to remember that with the later-than-ever booking trend there is still business out there to be won,” he added.