Boost for Ireland's top heritage sites as visitor numbers see increase
IRELAND’S top heritage attractions have hailed a bumper tourist season with visitor numbers variously up by between 5pc and 10pc.
The Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Zoo, the Cliffs of Moher, Fota Wildlife Park, Newgrange/Bru na Boinne, Blarney Castle, the Rock of Cashel and Loop Head Lighthouse have all variously confirmed strong 2016 visitor numbers.
The number of US tourists visiting Ireland is up – though it has fallen back from the remarkable 19pc increase recorded between November and January.
Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports are predicting increased passenger numbers ranging between 6pc and 10pc with Cork confirming it will handle 100,000 passengers more than last year.
For the first time ever, Ireland recorded one million visitors over the first two months of the year – and it is expected that overall visitor numbers will increase over the summer by around 8pc.
Dublin's tourism sector is expanding so fast some experts have warned that additional hotel capacity may now be required.
Ireland has also been boosted by its perception as a ‘safe’ holiday destination given the security issues across Europe this year.
The tourism industry is still reaping a legacy dividend from ‘The Gathering’ initiative in 2013 though the bumper numbers this year are being attributed to economic factors, the 1916 centenary in Dublin and the incredible success of ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ initiative.
Tourism Minister Shane Ross stressed that the sector remains one of the most important parts of the Irish economy and he said the increase in overseas visitor numbers was “a major boost” for the hospitality and catering industries.
However, while there have been increased numbers of American, Italian, French, German and Swiss visitors, roughly 40pc of the market is still accounted for by UK tourists.
The recovery in the north American market has particularly boosted Ireland with US visitors expected to show their greatest numbers in eight years.
The Office of Public Works (OPW), which runs top heritage attractions such as the Rock of Cashel, Kilmainham Gaol and Newgrange/Bru na Boinne, admitted it has been a very strong year.
Newgrange is now operating at maximum capacity while the Rock of Cashel, still benefitting from Queen Elizabeth II’s high profile 2011 visit, has seen visitor numbers soar by almost 5pc.
Kilmainham Gaol’s visitor numbers are up by more than 8pc, helped by the enormous interest in the Easter Rising centenary.
The Dublin attraction is expected to confirm 500,000 visitors this year helped in part by a major redevelopment.
The Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s top visitor attraction, is on course for a 5pc-plus hike.
Three years ago, it broke the one million visitor record.
Ireland’s most popular natural attraction, the Cliffs of Moher, is expected to confirm a similar hike in visitor numbers.
Fota Wildlife Park is set for 400,000-plus visitors.