US tourists ride to the rescue of ailing sector
THE Americans came back to our shores towards the end of 2010, giving a badly needed boost to Ireland's flagging tourism industry.
The total number of tourists visiting Ireland fell by 12.9pc in 2010 but the decline levelled off towards the end of the year, thanks to a late influx of visitors from North America and other long-haul destinations.
The figures are a welcome boost at a critical time for our tourism industry as Americans traditionally spend more than any other overseas visitors.
New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the total number of overseas visits to Ireland was down 2.2pc in the final quarter of last year compared to the same period in 2009.
Although almost 900,000 fewer tourists visited Ireland than in 2009, the figures would have been even worse if it wasn't for a late surge in trips from North America, which rose by 13.9pc, and from other long-haul destinations, which were up 9.2pc in the final quarter.
Returning consumer confidence in the US and pent-up demand for overseas trips were key reasons for the welcome increase in American visitors, which had been badly hit since the financial crisis, according to Tourism Ireland.
Nearly 25,000 more American visitors travelled here in the final three months of the year compared to the same period in 2009, although the overall tally of 935,600 American visitors for the year was well below the one million plus visitors seen a few years ago.
The key British market remained severely depressed, falling by 8.7pc in the final quarter, and totalling just 2.7 million for the entire year -- more than half a million fewer than in 2009 and a staggering 1.3 million fewer than in 2007.
"2010 proved to be one of the most difficult years on record for overseas tourism to the island of Ireland," said Tourism Ireland Chief Executive Niall Gibbons.
The figures show just over six million visitors came to Ireland during 2010, compared with more than eight million in 2007.
However, there had been a welcome return to growth from North America, France, Germany, the Nordic region and Australia, and developing markets last year, Mr Gibbons said, and restoring the British market was their top priority for 2011.
Foreign travel by Irish people also suffered in the economic gloom as we took nearly half a million fewer trips abroad last year, down by 6.8pc in the year to 6.57 million.
This compares with the record level of 7.87 million trips abroad Irish people made in 2008 in the dying days of the boom.