Passenger numbers at airport plummet
The number of passengers travelling through Dublin Airport fell by more than 1.5 million this year as Irish people opted for "staycations" and foreign tourists went elsewhere.
Just over 10.5 million passengers travelled through the country's busiest airport in the first seven months of this year, compared to 12.2 million over the same period last year.
The fall-off in visitor numbers to Ireland has been described as "catastrophic" by opposition TDs. Tourism interests, who said the sector had been rescued by the increase in people holidaying at home, said the fall in visitor numbers was "disappointing but not unexpected".
Figures from the Central Statistics Office show there are now more than 4,250 fewer people visiting Ireland every day compared to a year ago.
Tourism provided €1.2bn in taxation revenues in 2009 and employed almost 120,000 people -- more than agriculture, forestry and the fishing sectors or the financial services sector.
The economic downturn and the prolonged ash cloud disruption plunged the tourism sector into turmoil.
When the ash cloud chaos and one-off factors such as a strike by air traffic controllers is taken into account, the Dublin Airport Authority believes its decline in passenger numbers is closer to around 1.1 million and not upwards of 1.7 million.
In July, when airport activity should have been at its peak, transatlantic volumes were down almost 5pc.
UK traffic recorded a 9pc decline with just over 630,000 passengers travelling to and from Britain in July.
Plummeting airport activity may point to a boost in the number of people opting for "staycations" in Ireland. But it also reveals the continued turmoil for a sector which relies on the summer season for its main revenue.
The number of visitors from North America has collapsed this year by one third -- despite the increased value of the dollar against the euro.
Labour tourism spokeswoman Mary Upton said the tourism fall-off was "startling". The "minuscule" number of visitors Ireland is attracting from Asia must now be addressed as a matter of urgency, Ms Upton said. Asia represents a massive market and Ireland is simply not tapping into it, she added.
For every additional €1m spent by tourists in Ireland, 23 jobs can be created, Failte Ireland says.
The damaging start to the year followed a slump in passenger traffic last year when traffic through the three main airports fell by 13pc to 26.1 million.
The massive fall-off had a major impact on retail revenues at the airports, which fell by 17pc to €244m.
Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin has now established a Renewal Implementation Group to drive competitiveness in the tourism industry.
However, Fine Gael's tourism spokesman Jimmy Deenihan said this summer's tourism figures were "catastrophic" and called for marketing budgets to be much more targeted in future.