Fingers crossed that tourism will Gather pace in 2013
When influential travel guide Fodor's recently named Ireland as one of the top places to visit in the world during 2013, it couldn't have come at a better time for the Government and Tourism Ireland.
They've been busy drumming up interest in The Gathering, which runs all year and which – it's hoped – will boost tourist numbers to Ireland by 325,000 in 2013. It would come as a much-needed boost, especially outside Dublin, at a time when visitor numbers to Ireland have fallen substantially from a peak of over eight million reached in 2007.
But attracting tourists is a tougher job than ever. Affordable air travel and an increased focus by developing countries on the sector mean that people have more options than ever in terms of how they spend their spare cash and free time.
The scale of growth in the global tourism trade is underlined by a recent report from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
At an event in Spain last month, it symbolically welcomed the world's one billionth tourist in 2012. It's the first time that the agency reckons the annual number of tourists travelling around the world outside their own country ever exceeded a billion. It's estimated by the UNWTO that between five and six billion annual trips are also made by people within their own countries that can be classed as tourism.
In fact, the UNWTO estimates that the world's one billion tourists last year equated to over $1.2 trillion (€920bn) in exports and supported one in 12 jobs. They accounted for 6pc of world trade and for 9pc of global gross domestic product.
And while Europe remains the destination of choice for most tourists, countries in other regions are increasingly taking their share of the pie.
The UNWTO said that emerging economies recorded 5pc growth in tourist figures between January and August last year – the latest set of numbers the agency has available. That compared to 4pc growth notched up by advanced economies.
Asia-Pacific recorded the biggest rise, where a growing Chinese middle class keen to expand its horizons is probably impacting growth. But despite the trouble in the eurozone, Europe recorded 3pc growth in the period. And of course, tourism is big business.
The UNWTO estimates that international tourism receipts in Ireland hit $4.64bn in 2011, up from just over $4bn in 2010 but still lower than the $4.9bn that was recorded in 2009. That seems, and is, a lot.
But take a look at a country such as Australia. It recorded 5.8 million international visitors in 2011 – fewer than the 6.5 million to Ireland. Yet tourism receipts from those visitors to Australia reached $31.4bn. That's nearly seven times more than in Ireland.
Even in Israel, which attracted just 2.8 million visitors in 2011, tourism receipts from them hit $4.8bn.
This year, Dublin in particular will benefit from Ireland's presidency of the European Union. Hotels in the capital struggled in the depths of the financial crisis, but have since largely recovered. Outside urban areas, however, the picture remains bleaker.
Still, as more people are enticed to spend their holidays at home, the trend has meant good news for some of the country's tourist attractions. Dublin Zoo this week said the number of people visiting it hit nearly 1.03 million in 2012 – a record for the attraction.
The Guinness Store House recorded 1.08 million visitors, confirming its position – just – as the country's leading tourist attraction. Even newcomers to the attraction scene, such as the Tayto Park in Co Meath, have been doing well. It saw 450,000 visitors pass through its gates in 2012, a number it expects to rise to 550,000 this year.