The tourism sector is facing 2013 with renewed confidence after official figures show there was a slight growth in the number of overseas visitors to Ireland in 2012.
It is the second year in a row of rising foreign tourist numbers following a sharp drop in the previous few years during the start of the recession.
Data from the CSO shows there was an increase of 0.2% in overseas trip to Ireland last year — up 12,000 to 6,517,200.
The increase was helped by a strong growth in the final quarter of 2012 — the number of overseas visitors was up 5%, or 68,300, compared to the corresponding period in 2011, including a 14% increase in the number of visitors from North America.
However, the decline in Ireland’s largest tourism market continued last year with a 3.6% drop in visitors from Britain — down 103,900 to just under 2.8m.
The number of visitors from France — the fourth largest market after Britain, the US, and Germany — also fell by 1.2% last year.
On the plus side, the number of overall visitors from mainland Europe rose 2.8% in 2012 — up 64,200 to more than 2.3m — while there was a 3% increase in visitors from North America — up 29,800 to over 1m.
The number of visitors from other long-haul destinations recorded a 6.1% rise last year — up 21,900 to almost 380,000.
The CSO figures also showed a 0.5% increase in the number of Irish people travelling abroad in 2010 — up 33,000 to more than 6.3m — still far short of the 7m-plus overseas visits recorded during the height of the boom.
The latest tourism figures were welcomed by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who noted they came on top of 7% growth in 2011.
Mr Varadkar said an extra boost in visitor numbers generated by The Gathering should ensure a third year of successive growth in 2013, with targets of 4%-5% for the year ahead.
While acknowledging the continuing fall in visitors from Britain, Mr Varadkar said it was important to point out that tourists from other destinations tended to “stay longer and spend more”.
Mr Varadkar said tourist numbers in 2013 should be further helped by increased air capacity from North America and the “global buzz” growing around The Gathering.
Tourism Ireland predicted the tourism sector would build on last year’s performance, and will be assisted by an extensive programme of promotional activity centred on The Gathering.
However, Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons admitted that Britain remained a challenging market due to its flat economy and weak consumer confidence.
While there was still uncertainty about the global economy and its impact on tourism, Mr Gibbons said he believed a 5% growth in visitor numbers could be achieved in 2013.
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