Brexit hits UK tourist numbers but visitors from US are up 20pc
Ireland is going to have to gain a competitive edge in order to fend off a decrease in the number of British tourists coming here in the wake of Brexit.
Figures from the UK market were the only blotch on Tourism Ireland's mid-year report, which shows that 182,000 more people came to Ireland than in the first half of 2016.
Overseas visitors are up by 4.2pc, but the number from Britain is down 6.4pc.
Tourism Minister Shane Ross said the British figures were "a concern, not a surprise" but that a 21.6pc jump in tourists from North America "more than compensates for it".
He said: "It's too early to state definitively what the reasons for this decline are. It is clear that the sterling depreciation following the Brexit referendum has made Ireland and every other EU destination more expensive for British travellers."
The minister added: "Maintaining the overall competitiveness in our tourism industry is vital at this time."
Tourism Ireland has commissioned research into the British market, which found that people are likely to travel less and spend less in the wake of Brexit. However, the numbers travelling from Britain to many competitor countries in the EU is growing, despite Brexit.
The CEO of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons, said the situation was "very challenging" and that Irish companies needed to be "very conscious that the British consumer is looking for real value".
He continued: "Certainly, the British are still travelling abroad. Competitiveness is going to be absolutely key here. Ireland was always the one that was most likely to be hit hardest because we're closest to the UK and most dependant on it."
The Department of Tourism has set out its key priority for the Brexit negotiations, including:
Maintaining a liberalised aviation regime;
Preserving the common travel area;
Avoiding a hard Border;
Retaining Irish-British visa arrangements.
Currently, tourists from India and China can obtain a single visa that allows them travel in both Ireland and Britain - but this could be jeopardised by the UK's decision to leave the EU.
Tourism Ireland will shortly launch an "extensive programme" of promotions.
This will include a greater emphasis on what it describes as a "culturally curious audience", which is less impacted by currency fluctuations.
Towards the end of the year, there will also be a new global campaign to highlight Ireland's connection with the 'Star Wars' movies to coincide with the release of 'Episode VIII: The Last Jedi'. Mr Gibbons said they would be "taking every opportunity to capitalise on the huge publicity around the film".