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It's official - 2018 was Ireland's busiest ever year for tourism

Dublin Airport has also surpassed the 30 million passenger milestone for the first time


Passengers on their way to Dublin Airport's Terminal 2.

Passengers on their way to Dublin Airport's Terminal 2.

Passengers on their way to Dublin Airport's Terminal 2.

There may still be several sleeps 'til Christmas, but Tourism Ireland is calling it. 2018 was the "best ever year" for tourism to this island.

By the end of the year, a record 11.2 million visitors will have come to Ireland north and south, the marketing organisation says, spending €6.1 billion in the process.

Those figures represent a rise of over 500,000 visitors and a 10pc jump in spending as compared to 2017, driven by growth across North American, Mainland European, Australian and several emerging markets.

In other news yesterday, Dublin Airport announced that it had broken the 30 million passenger milestone for the first time in its 78-year history.

Passengers are up 6pc this year, with a busy Christmas yet to come.

Several factors have driven Ireland's tourism boom, including increased air access and a general economic upswing, as well as exposure from events like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal visit and a blockbuster role in Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

However, despite heading into 2019 "in a position of some strength", as Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons puts it, there are also causes for concern.

A higher VAT rate kicks in for Irish hospitality businesses from January 1, for example, and Dublin is looking like an increasingly expensive destination.

Then, of course, there is Brexit.

Revenue in the tourism industry could be hit by as much as €390m in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit, Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly told an Oireachtas committee last month.

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“The tourism sector supports approximately 260,000 jobs in communities all across the country," according to Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, who has said Ireland's tourism budget will increase by 26pc next year.

"Our focus going forward is to ensure that we continue to grow in a sustainable way and to further build on the success that the regions have experienced through initiatives such as the ‘Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way’ and ‘The Call of the Wild’."

Tourism Ireland's budget has been increased by €10 million to €45 million for 2019, and it hopes to grow overseas revenue by a further 6pc next year.

A new global marketing campaign, 'Fill your heart with Ireland', will shortly be rolled out over 20 countries on TV, print, cinema, outdoor ads and online.

Echoing Fáilte Ireland's growing focus on 'regionality' and 'seasonality' to encourage tourism outside of peak times and destinations, the campaign will feature less-visited locations and aims to attract visitors year-round.

A Tourism Action Plan 2019 to 2021 will also be published shortly.

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