THE Gathering has been so successful it is set to return – but not for at least another seven years.
An extra 291,000 visitors have come to Ireland already this year meaning the Gathering is set to meet its target of attracting an extra 325,000 tourists during 2013, Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said.
The year-long marketing campaign of local events, aimed at attracting members of the Diaspora back to visit, is also aiming to generate an extra €170m for the tourist industry, but the final balance sheet will not be known until an economic analysis is completed early next year.
However, the Exchequer has spent a relatively modest €13m on the Gathering over two years and the extra revenue is set to be "a multiple of that", Mr Varadkar told a press conference at the the Global Irish Economic Forum.
The Gathering had been a "once in a generation event", which meant it could not simply be repeated in a year or two as that would devalue it.
"I could see us doing it again maybe in seven years' time, or in 10 years' time, but in the meantime we have to do other things," he said.
Its success meant it could be a tough act to follow for the tourist sector next year as there could be a "displacement effect" where tourists had brought forward trips to 2013 they might have otherwise taken in 2014.
Mr Varadkar said he hoped the event would have a "halo effect" instead, where visitors this year would encourage more people to come next year.
The minister said a new Wild Atlantic Way coastal driving route is set to be fully signposted next year from Donegal/ Derry down to Cork and this was already drawing huge interest from tour operators.
"I think that'll really work, it could be our answer to the Garden route in South Africa," he said.
He noted there was still some major events to come this year including Rebel Week in Cork and a new year festival to round off the Gathering year.
Mr Varadkar said there had been a fair degree of scepticism about the Gathering when it was launched two years ago.
"But I don't think anyone disputes now that the Gathering has been a real success," he said, noting that 14,000 jobs had been created in tourism in the last two years.
Mr Varadkar said he would be arguing strongly to keep the 9pc VAT rate for the tourism sector in the Budget but Finance Minister Michael Noonan was in a difficult position to find other spending cuts and tax increases.
"My view on the VAT reduction is that it has been a success, it's helped the industry become more competitive, there's no doubt about that, and that really does matter," he said.
A total 4,753,000 overseas visitors came to Ireland in the first eight months of the year compared with 4,462,000 in the same period last year, the latest figures show.