Weakness of sterling causes huge fall in tourist numbers
A MASSIVE 900,000 fewer tourists came to Ireland last year -- the lowest number of overseas visitors since 2005.
The weakness of sterling is one factor being blamed, forcing British visitors to stay away.
There were 6.9 million trips to Ireland last year, down 11.6pc on 2008, and from more than 8 million in 2007, Central Statistics Office figures show.
The most dramatic slump came in visits from Britain, Ireland's biggest tourist source.
British visitors to Ireland fell to 3.2 million, some 615,000 fewer than in 2008 and down from around 4 million in 2007.
The North American market held up well by contrast, with 980,000 visitors, just 2pc fewer than in 2008, while the European market fell by almost 9pc with 2.4 million visitors.
The number of Irish trips abroad during 2009 dipped significantly to 7.05 million, down 10.5pc on 2008, which impacted on Irish airlines.
The figures showed the tourism industry was in meltdown, wiping €1bn off earnings, said Fine Gael Tourism spokeswoman Olivia Mitchell.
"As I have been warning for over eight months, the collapse in the number of visitors from the UK is at the heart of the problem, with the drop in the UK figures representing exactly two-thirds of the overall drop," she said.
Government policy was a major part of the collapse as it had ignored the calls of Tourism Minister Martin Cullen's own advisory group to abolish the airport departure tax, she said.
Marketing body Tourism Ireland said that 2009 had been one of the toughest years for tourism on Ireland.
"The CSO figures issued today reflect the impact on Ireland and on tourism businesses across the island," said chief executive Niall Gibbons.
There were positive signs as its website www.discoverireland.com had received a record 13 million hits in 2009, which showed a strong interest in Ireland, and the aim was to convert that to sales in 2010, he said.