Number of foreign visitors plummets by 850,000
THE number of foreign visitors to Ireland has plummeted by over 850,000 in the last year.
But despite the gloomy figures, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin insisted the sector will return to growth next year.
New figures from the Central Statistics Office show there was a 15pc fall in tourist numbers to Ireland in the first nine months of 2010, down from 5.5 million to 4.6 million visitors.
In the key holiday period between July and September, the number of overseas visitors to Ireland dropped by 8.3pc, largely accounted for by a 10.8pc decline in British visitors, while trips from Europe and North America fell by 7.5pc and 6.6pc respectively.
However, Irish people's appetite for foreign travel was undiminished in the third quarter of the year, with people taking 2.1 million trips overseas between July and September.
Overall in 2010, however, Irish people have taken nearly 327,000 fewer visits overseas than the 5.6 million journeys taken in the same period of 2009, but the numbers appear to be stabilising after a much bigger drop last year.
Speaking from New York where she is on a trade mission, Ms Hanafin said it was important to recognise that over 4.6 million overseas visitors had come here so far this year "with hugely positive benefits for the Irish economy".
"Obviously numbers for the first half of the year were severely impacted by the huge difficulties caused by the volcanic ash disruption in April and May and this certainly influenced some holiday planning in later months also," she added.
Ms Hanafin said she would be chairing the first meeting of the Global Irish Network during her trip to get ideas from influential business and cultural figures with links to Ireland.
Marketing body Tourism Ireland said 2010 had been one of the most difficult years on record for the tourism industry.
"Air access to Ireland declined by 6pc this summer, following an 18pc decline in the early part of the year," chief executive Niall Gibbons said.
Direct access from North America had fallen almost 25pc since 2008 while access from Britain, our largest market, was down 10pc this summer.
"Direct competitive access services are vital to the future growth of our tourism industry," he said.