Tourism 'turns corner' with 7pc rise in visitors
BARGAIN hotel prices, the visits of Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama, and the VAT reduction in the hospitality sector are breathing life into the tourism industry.
The number of tourists visiting our shores increased by 7pc this year -- the first rise in four years, according to the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC).
ITIC chairman John Healy said he was optimistic the industry had "turned a corner" after the most "horrific years" ever experienced.
However, he warned the industry still has a long way to go before hitting the same heights as its peak in 2007.
The figures reveal a decrease of more than a million visitors from a peak of 7.7 million in 2007 to 6.3 million this year.
The numbers have been gradually decreasing since 2008 when there were 7.4 million visitors, followed by 6.5 million in 2009 and 5.9 million in 2010.
The report showed that arrivals from mainland Europe were up 10pc, visits from the US increased by 8pc and arrivals from the UK rose by 5pc.
But ITIC chief executive Eamonn McKeon said that although more overseas visitors are coming to our shores, the rise in numbers is not being matched by an increase in the amount of money they are spending here.
"The increase in tourist numbers does not correspond with the increase in revenues, clearly demonstrating the growing trend that tourists are taking shorter breaks in Ireland," said Mr McKeon.
He added although Dublin continued to fare well, the other regions, particularly the north west, west Cork and Kerry, had a poor year in 2011.
This was put down to shorter stays which prevented tourists from striking out from the capital.
He pointed out that although there was a 7pc increase in visitor arrivals this year, the 2011 likely outcome was still almost 7pc behind 2009, and almost 18pc lower than 2008.
Arrivals from continental Europe were down by 15pc on 2007. However, long-haul markets, including North America, are close to their peak level.
Compared with three years ago, arrivals from Britain this year are down by more than 20pc.
Mr Healy said a reduction of the VAT rate on tourism-related activities to 9pc was a crucial factor in the industry's recovery, as it helped restore lost competitiveness in the markets.
The reduced rate, which took effect in the summer, applies to hotels, restaurants, cinema and concert tickets and other leisure activities.
"The reduction in accommodation rates for tourists was a huge factor in the growth in the numbers of overseas visitors this year," he said.
Mr Healy said the eurozone crisis coupled with continued economic downturn in the UK, which is Ireland's largest tourism market, would make 2012 a difficult year.
The ITIC is the representative body which works with agencies including Failte Ireland, CIE, the Dublin Airport Authority, the Guinness Storehouse and the Restaurants Association of Ireland. Mr McKeon was formerly chief executive at Great Southern Hotels while Mr Healy is a director of Abbey Tours.
Mr Healy called on the government to continue the reduced rate into 2013 and beyond to ensure continued growth in the sector.
The chairman said he did not believe international coverage of Ireland's economic crisis had negatively impacted the tourism industry. He added the historic visits by the queen and Mr Obama would continue to boost the tourism industry.