BRINGING back the British holidaymaker is the biggest challenge for the country's struggling tourism industry, according to hotel owners.
The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) is desperate to turn this around, after recording a further drop of 100,000 in visitors from the UK last year, bringing the total number that travelled here to 2.7 million.
There has been a fall of 1 million, or 30pc, in visits from our nearest neighbours since 2007.
Chief Executive of the IHF, Tim Fenn, said there was a 3pc rise in British visitors in 2011, but last year's fall meant this was "one step forward and two back".
"It is a stark reminder of the amount of ground lost since 2007, and the urgent need to reinvigorate our most important tourism market," he said.
He said the tourism industry's target to attract an extra 200,000 visitors from the UK per year by 2016 was not ambitious enough.
Overall, there was only a 0.2pc increase in overseas visitors last year, while revenue from the tourism industry was stagnant at €5.7bn.
Almost three-quarters of those staying in hotels were visitors from Ireland.
"A more aggressive approach needs to be adopted with campaigns aimed at attracting a greater spread of visitors to the regions and promoting specific reasons to visit – whether activity-based or focusing on heritage and culture," said Mr Fenn.
Six out of 10 hotels and guesthouses said they were dissatisfied with the quality of Irish tourism data supplied by the Central Statistics Office.
A survey by the IHF said the lack of detailed statistics was putting tourist operators at a "significant competitive disadvantage".
It said it did not have the necessary tools to target its marketing efforts, or learn from the mistakes of promotions that may not have worked.
President Michael Vaughan said it was "incredulous" that a €6bn sector of the economy, which employs 11pc of workers, did not have the necessary tools to measure its performance.
He said the final regional figures for 2011 had only just become available, and these did not give any detail on the length of visitors' stay or the reasons they visited certain sights.
The tourism boss said there was also no data on the activities and events that attracted holidaymakers to Ireland or the quality of their experience here.
"We know more about the travel patterns of the 6.8 million cows on the island than we do about the 6.5 million visitors to our shores each year," he said.