Irish tourism breaks 10 million visitor barrier for first time
Overseas visits to Ireland have never been higher, but will Brexit bring tourism back down to earth?
It's official - 2018 was a record year for Irish tourism, with visitor numbers surpassing the 10 million milestone for the first time ever.
Over 10.6 million overseas arrivals were recorded last year, according to the Central Statistics Office’s latest official overseas travel report - up from 9.93 million in 2017, which was itself a record year.
The figures saw North American visitors jump 13.4pc to almost 2.4 million, while tourists from mainland Europe rose 9.5pc (driven by Germany and Italy) and Australia and developing markets recorded an increase of 6.7pc.
British figures were largely static, posting growth of just 1pc.
"Whilst the British market was somewhat flat, this is not surprising given the uncertainty attaching to Brexit,” said Minister for Tourism, Shane Ross. “Overall, though, it is heartening to see market diversification is driving our growth.”
Despite the good show, Brexit hangs like a Sword of Damocles over the tourist industry. Historically, Britain has been the single most important inbound market for Irish tourism, and still accounts for over 35pc of all visitors.
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, welcomed the record figures but said the continued uncertainty around Brexit, and its impact on outbound travel from Britain, "remains a real concern.”
As the Brexit cut-off date of March 29 approaches, Tourism Ireland has been focusing on diversifying Ireland's source markets, while Fáilte Ireland is managing a €5 million fund to prepare businesses for the challenges it may bring.
"With the increasing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit, as well other unforeseen political and economic developments in the US and Northern Europe, the sector will need to continue to show agility and resilience in the months ahead," cautioned Paul Kelly, its chief executive.
Despite this, the forecast is for even higher visitor numbers in 2019, with Tourism Ireland aiming to grow overseas revenue to €6.5 billion for the entire island.
For now, Ireland’s tourism strategy focuses on driving visits from markets beyond Britain, while spreading arrivals throughout seasons and regions - and not just cramming more numbers into peak places at peak times.
Read more:Irish Tourism in Numbers: From our most popular attraction to our least visited county