Visitor numbers up but industry warns of challenges ahead
TOURISM enjoyed an early summer boost with a 15pc rise in overseas visitors heading here in the second quarter of the year -- but only compared with a period last year when many flights were grounded by volcanic ash.
The latest CSO figures show almost 1.8 million people visited Ireland from April to June this year, a rise of 240,000 on last year.
But when compared with the same period for 2009 there was a drop of 120,300 in the number of visitors to Ireland and visitor numbers from the UK fell 11pc from 858,500 to 761,000.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar acknowledged the figures are distorted by last year's ash cloud situation which grounded hundreds of flights.
"Clearly comparisons with the first half of 2010 are distorted by the impact of severe weather and the volcanic ash on travel between March and May last year.
"Nonetheless, today's figures confirm indications on the ground that overseas travel to Ireland is moving into recovery," he said.
Tourism Ireland also acknowledged that the ash cloud debacle had distorted the year-on-year figures.
Chief executive Niall Gibbons said: "The month of May of this year was particularly positive for tourism, with the two historic visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama and the UEFA Europa League final in Dublin.
"Anecdotal reports from our industry partners around the island of Ireland confirm a more positive picture overall than this time last year."
The largest amount of visitors came from continental Europe. Some 620,700 Europeans travelled to Ireland, up 24pc on the same time last year. Trips by North Americans were up 17pc to 308,800 and 761,000 British travellers crossed the Irish Sea for a visit, up 8.5pc.
The numbers of Irish people going abroad rose also, with 1.77 million trips taken in the three months.
Irish Hotels Federation president Paul Gallagher said: "The figures for the third quarter will provide the first real insight as to whether there has been a sustained recovery in overseas markets.
"While Dublin has experienced an increase in tourism activity, other parts of the country continue to face significant challenges."