IRELAND'S tourism industry has received a major boost with official figures showing that visitor numbers have soared.
The sector is celebrating its best spring since the recession, with 1.9 million visits made here between March and May, up 7.5pc, and 2.7 million since January.
Hotels – which have already recorded a rise in advance summer bookings – restaurants and cultural sites are reaping the financial rewards of the six-year high in tourist numbers.
However, Failte Ireland's Shaun Quinn warned we cannot be complacent and must focus on areas where we can get further growth.
"We are confident that if the sector continues to maintain the current balance of quality and value which it provides, that we can sustain further growth," he said.
"What is good for tourism is good for Ireland.
"Tourism can provide economic growth, revenue and jobs with a spatial and regional spread unlike most other sectors. It provides employment in areas where foreign direct investment can't." Trips by our nearest neighbours in Great Britain jumped by 11.9pc to 812,800, while trips from North America increased by 5pc to almost 296,400, according to the Central Statistics Office.
Another 700,000 trips were made by Europeans (outside the UK), up 3pc, and 92,200 came from other countries – up 10pc. Figures also show more than 2.7 million trips made here in the first five months of the year – up 9.2pc compared to the same period in 2013.
They include 1.21 million from GB. Meanwhile, we made 2.27 million trips overseas. Elsewhere, data has revealed 1.2 billion trips were made by Europeans in 2012.
More than seven out of 10 people holidayed in their own country, with 24pc going abroad. Of those, 85pc stayed in Europe, with 4.5pc in Asia, 4.1pc in Africa, 3.8pc in North America and less than 2pc visiting Central and South America.
Spain was among the top three places to go for residents in 11 EU countries, followed by Germany, Italy, France and the UK.
"In 2012, EU28 residents made 1.2 billion trips of one night or more," Eurostat found.
"Almost half of these trips were for holidays and leisure, 35pc for visits to relatives and friends, 13pc for business and 4pc for other reasons. The average trip length was 5.2 nights."
The EU data also revealed that the most common way Europeans went on holiday was by car – 65pc.
In Ireland, half of us holidayed at home in 2012, boosting revenue here, with the other half going overseas.
Tourism chiefs said the numbers show 2014 was doing even better than last year, which was the year of The Gathering.
"These figures reflect an excellent performance for overseas visit numbers in the year to May 2014, with our best results for this period since 2008," said junior tourism minister Michael Ring.