TOURISM bodies will be looking across both the Atlantic and the Irish Sea in a bid to boost visitor numbers in the new year, after the industry celebrated its best year since 2009.
And our sights are firmly fixed on the German market. Even though a record number of Germans -- 450,000 -- came to Ireland this year, this accounted for a tiny fraction of the foreign trips taken by them.
In its review of 2013 and outlook for the year ahead, the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC) revealed that almost seven million overseas visitors injected more than €4bn into the economy. The past year saw it increase by 6pc over the previous year, and led to the creation of some 15,000 jobs in the industry.
The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation -- an umbrella body for the industry representing some 20,000 businesses and state bodies involved in the tourism sector -- is hopeful that 2014 will be even better and that tourism numbers will grow by another 5pc to 6pc to 7.5 million.
Close to three million visitors from the UK -- Ireland's largest single tourism market -- came here last year, reversing a downward trend over the past five years, the ITIC said as it unveiled its year-end review and outlook for 2014.
ITIC chief executive Eamonn McKeon said the British economy had rebounded and the return to growth there boded well for the tourism industry.
Visitors from Continental Europe were the second largest group at 2.5 million -- the ITIC is setting its sights on getting more visitors from Germany, Spain, France and Italy.
And along with maintaining the momentum of The Gathering tourism initiative -- which is credited with attracting 275,000 North American visitors here last year and generating €170m -- ITIC is also eyeing the largely untapped potential of the Canadian tourist market.
Only 100,000 Canadians visited Ireland last year -- but with Aer Lingus and Air Canada introducing direct flights to Toronto next spring and budget airline WestJet offering direct flights from St John's on the Atlantic coast, the ITIC believes better access will encourage more well-heeled and well-travelled Canadians to visit Ireland as well as the UK and Continental Europe.
However, it may take a few years before the industry will start to see a greater number of Chinese visitors, who still require a visa to visit here and who have adopted a "see Asia-first" mentality, he added.
State tourism officials predict an influx of between 20,000 and 50,000 Chinese visitors next year, which is still relatively small, Mr McKeon said.
"It's small now but it's a vast market and when their economies develop, they tend to visit closer to home."
But one of the single biggest factors credited with turning around the industry since the recession took hold in 2008 is a sea change in the "Rip-Off Ireland" mentality of the boom years to giving visitors value for money.
Restaurants, hotels and pubs have all lowered their prices in order to remain competitive with other destinations in Europe and Dublin is now one of the cheapest capital cities in Europe to visit, he added.