Tourist trips from Republic to Northern Ireland top one million for first time

Around half of visitors travelling to the North last year were first-time leisure visitors

Tourists at Titanic Belfast© Courtesy of Tourism Northern Ire

Pól Ó Conghaile

Overnight trips from the Republic to the North reached record levels in 2022, topping one million for the first time, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

More than 1.1m overnight trips were taken by visitors from the Republic last year, compared to 756,000 in 2019 – a 51pc rise.

As well as crossing the border in greater numbers, visitors from the Republic spent more – £233m/€268m in 2022, as compared with £142m/€190m in 2019.

The numbers “surpass even our most optimistic forecasts for 2022,” said David Roberts, Tourism NI’s Interim CEO.

“At a time when international markets have still been recovering, the additional business from the Republic has been hugely important to the tourism and hospitality sector right across Northern Ireland.”

Around half of visitors to the North last year were first-time leisure visitors, according to Tourism NI.

Mr Roberts put the increases down to investment in tourism marketing, including its ‘Embrace a Giant Spirit’ initiative, a growing range of visitor attractions, value for money and “enhanced accommodation”.

This year, Titanic Belfast added several new galleries after a £4.5m/€5.2m refresh, and new accommodation arrivals in the North range from The Regency in Belfast to Burrenmore Nest, a suite of lodges with hot-tubs immersed in a forest setting in Co Derry. Both made the Irish Independent’s Fab 50 list of the best places to stay in Ireland for 2023.

The rate of growth in cross-border visits outpaced that of domestic trips within Ireland – which rose over 14pc from 11.6m in 2019 to 13.3m in 2022 – although off a lower base.

“We know too that, whilst times are currently very challenging for both businesses and consumers, there is further growth potential in the years ahead,” Mr Roberts said.

South of the border, domestic spending on staycations was up 36pc last year from 2019, according to the CSO figures.

"These results are hugely positive for tourism and for our economy,” Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly said this week. "They show the passion that consumers have for discovering our beautiful country.”

Although overseas travel continues to bounce back strongly after the pandemic, CSO figures suggest its pace of return slightly lagged that of domestic travel last year.

Spain was the most popular sun holiday destination for Irish people in 2022 with 1.67m trips, for example – as compared to 1.88m for 2019.

598k trips were made to France in 2022, compared to 610k in 2019, 595k to Italy (compared to 590k in 2019) and 482k to Portugal (compared to 522k in 2019).