Big freeze blamed for tourism decline
Visitors to Ireland plummeted by more than a quarter in January with tourism chiefs blaming the now-infamous big freeze for the slump.
There were 110,400 fewer holidaymakers at the start of the year than the same period in 2009, with tourists from Britain down more than 30pc, accounting for the biggest fall-off.
Fine Gael branded the figures cataclysmic while Tourism Ireland said the sector had been hit by the arctic conditions with airports forced to shut and the public advised against unnecessary travel.
Niall Gibbons, chief executive, said: "The month of January accounts for approximately 6pc of overall visitors each year.
"The extreme treacherous weather conditions experienced in Great Britain and across mainland Europe at the beginning of the year, which resulted in widespread airport closures and led authorities to discourage all unnecessary travel, have certainly impacted on visitor numbers."
Figures from the Central Statistics Office reveal:
> Overseas visitors fell 26pc from 424,200 in January 2009 to 313,800.
> Britain accounted for the highest fall-off at 65,900, followed by Poland (7800), France (7000), Italy (5700) and Germany (5200).
> Overseas trips by Irish holidaymakers also fell 10.6pc.
Olivia Mitchell, Fine Gael's Tourism spokeswoman, said the slump in UK visitors was at the heart of the tourism difficulties because of the differential between sterling and euro.
"While the UK is still an important market, as long as the currency differential exists we should be concentrating our efforts on the European Market," Ms Mitchell said.
Ms Mitchell claimed Fianna Fail policies had helped cause the collapse and she challenged newly-installed Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin to do a better job than her predecessor Martin Cullen.
"The most urgent measure is to deal with the huge shortfall in cars available for hire as a direct result of tax changes in the Budget," she said.
"Alongside this is Fianna Fail's determination to continue to levy the departure tax."
Ryanair again called for an end to the €10 levy per departing passenger claiming 4 million fewer passengers (a 13pc slump) travelled through Irish airports in its first year.
The no-frills airline said its traffic had grown in countries which were not taxing tourists.
Spokesman Stephen McNamara said: "Ireland cannot grow tourism by taxing tourists and raising airport charges.
"The Government should 'axe the tax' and slash the DAA's high charges as a matter of urgency before even more damage is done to Ireland's vital tourism industry by this Government's €10 tourist tax."
Tourism Ireland said it has a comprehensive promotional programme under way in countries across the globe to help boost visitors to Ireland.