Hotels at fullest since 2007 as foreign visitors return to Ireland
Hotel occupancy has returned to pre-crash levels, driven by a big jump in visitors from the US and Canada.
An extra half a million visitors helped push the occupancy rate for hotels and guesthouses to 64pc in 2014, the highest level since 2007, according to research from Failte Ireland.
"Ireland is now firmly back on the tourism map and there is a real sense of optimism in the sector," said Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) chief executive Tim Fenn in advance of the lobby group's annual conference in the Slieve Russell in Cavan today.
Some 7.3 million foreign visitors came to Ireland during the year, up 586,000 on 2013, updated figure showed.
North America delivered a particularly stellar performance with visitor numbers jumping 15pc to 1.2 million.
North American tourists are especially welcomed by the industry as they have higher than average spending power.
Visitors from Britain - Ireland's main tourism market - grew by 8pc to 3.1 million. Visitors from mainland Europe were up 7pc to 2.5 million.
Domestic demand for hotels also grew, albeit at a less pronounced rate.
Domestic and Northern Irish tourists and business travellers are still the bedrock of the hotel industry, accounting for seven in ten of all hotel bed nights.
"People are gradually starting to take more trips at home and spend more money in the local economy," Mr Fenn said.
But gains were not spread evenly across the country, the data showed.
Many rural hotels continued to experience subdued domestic demand and difficulties encouraging overseas visitors to venture outside the traditional tourism locations.
Dublin room occupancy rates were far higher than the national average, at 73pc.
The North West, by contrast, saw just 54pc of rooms filled during the year, identical to 2013.
The East and Midlands also clocked in at only 54pc, but enjoyed the biggest gain of the year, up 10pc on 2013.
The Shannon region was also lower than average for room occupancy.
A total of 11 hotels closed their doors for good last year, most of them located outside of Dublin.
"Regional tourism requires much greater support," said Mr Fenn. "The recovery is slower in many rural areas, which continue to lag behind the larger cities and tourism hotspots."
Local authority rates are also holding the industry back, the IHF said, describing the rates as "the largest single cost that hoteliers have control over."
Average local authority rates for hotels and guesthouses equate to €1,500 per bedroom, regardless of occupancy, the organisation calculated.