Tourist numbers up by 500,000
NEARLY half-a-million more tourists visited Ireland last year, the first increase since the recession started.
Over 6.5 million visitors travelled here last year, up from six million the previous year, new Central Statistics Office figures show.
Industry experts put the improvement down to strong marketing and cheaper prices, making Ireland a more attractive place to visit.
Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed the first annual increase in tourism numbers since 2007 but warned a dip at the end of the year meant there was no room for complacency.
Trips to Ireland tailed off in the final three months of the year, decreasing by 3pc over the same period in 2010 to 1.37 million.
"Consumer sentiment is clearly having an impact, with markets like France and Italy down, while Germany was up 15pc for the last quarter on the 2010 results," said Mr Varadkar.
There had been a welcome increase in trips from non-core markets, and Tourism Ireland would target countries like Brazil and Russia this year to make up for losses from more traditional sources, he said.
Measures designed to help the tourism industry, such as the reduced 9pc VAT rate on hotel and restaurant bills, would also stay in place in 2012, he said.
The CSO figures show there was a particularly sharp 12pc fall in North American visitors towards the end of the year, although their numbers were up overall in the year to nearly a million.
Crucially, visitor numbers from Britain -- our biggest market -- were up 5pc in the year to almost 2.9 million despite a slight dip towards year end.
Overall, visitor numbers were 8pc ahead of 2011, said Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons.
"Better value for money has helped make the country more attractive to visit and allowed us recapture visitors from important markets as well as bringing in record numbers from new areas like India and China," he said. However, while the global economic landscape was challenging for travel, feedback from the industry gave ground for cautious optimism.
But though the tourist industry welcomed the improvement in visitor numbers last year, Irish people were still cutting back on trips abroad.
Irish people made 6.3 million trips abroad last year -- but this was down 4pc on 2010, and was three-quarters of a million fewer than two years ago.