One million Americans on way as Gathering delivers
IT was billed as "Ireland's greatest ever tourism initiative" – and The Gathering now appears to be working.
Tourism numbers are the best they have been for four years, with the strongest result coming from North America, where The Gathering has been heavily marketed.
One million American visitors are expected to visit Ireland in 2013, spending around $1bn (€765,000).
Tourism chiefs hailed the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office which show overall visitor numbers to Ireland have risen 8.1pc, to 1.77 million, from March to May.
There was an 12.8pc increase in North American tourists over the first five months of the year, with 369,100 visits. UK visitors were up 5.6pc to 726,300 – despite the overall slump in the general British travel market.
Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said The Gathering was gaining momentum.
"As the year progresses, each set of statistics shows that The Gathering is making a difference. Numbers from North America are as good as we've ever seen them, while France is leading the charge from Europe," he said.
The Australian and New Zealand market also grew by an impressive 12.1pc from March to May.
Visits from mainland Europe were up 8.5pc for January to May and by 9.6pc between March and May.
The highest jump has been witnessed in visitors from France at 26.3pc, the Benelux countries at 11pc, Germany at 6.1pc and the Nordic countries at 6pc.
Even recession-mired Spain has seen visitors here rise by 5.4pc over the same three-month period.
Jim Miley, project director of The Gathering, said the figures indicate that it is succeeding in delivering on its goal.
"It's particularly encouraging that the prime target markets for The Gathering – North America, Australia and New Zealand – are all showing double-digit growth in visitor numbers for the first months of the year," he said.
Upcoming events linked to The Gathering include a 'Riverdance' along the Liffey on July 21 and Flightfest where 30 aircraft will fly the path of the river on September 15. Cork Rebel week is set for October 14-20 and will also boost visitor numbers in the second half of the year, he said.
Shaun Quinn, CEO of Failte Ireland, said the figures underscore a growing confidence across the sector that "the tide is finally turning".
He expressed his hope that the seeds sown by The Gathering this year "can flower for many years to come".
Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland said his agency was rolling out a new plan to bring an additional 200,000 British visitors by 2016.