Spend by tourists fell by more than 4% in the first three months of the year despite visitors rising by 5.5%, CSO figures have revealed - as industry bosses admitted growth is not being felt evenly across the country.
The number of nights spent in Ireland by overseas travellers decreased by 3.2% in the first quarter of 2019 compared with the same period last year, down from 12.5 million to 12.1 million, the CSO said.
The average duration of trips by visitors dropped from 6.5 nights in the first quarter of 2018 to six nights in the first quarter of this year.
Total tourism spend by overseas travellers to decreased by 4.6% between the first quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of this year, decreasing from €1.08bn to €1.30bn, the CSO said.
It said when fares are excluded, total expenditure decreased from €795m to €763m, a decrease of 4%.
CEO of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons said the rest of the year would be more challenging for the industry.
"We are in constant contact with our tourism partners around the country and we know that growth in overseas tourism is not being felt evenly across the industry.
"Following several years of growth, we are very much aware that this year will be more challenging.
“Britain remains our most challenging market for the peak season. While we welcome the fact that visitor numbers from Britain are up more than 2% for January-March, we know that currency fluctuations and the Brexit extension continue to cause uncertainty and may affect travel demand for the summer season.
Overseas trips to Ireland increased by 5.5% for the period January to March 2019 https://t.co/5sYvuJad9T #CSOIreland #Ireland #Tourism #Travel #Holidays #LoveIreland #OverseasTravel pic.twitter.com/xsUL1n5Msr— Central Statistics Office Ireland (@CSOIreland) June 12, 2019
"Last week, we launched a new strategy for the British market; we will continue to monitor the market closely, working in conjunction with our British-based Brexit Taskforce," he said.
The chair of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) said there was an onus on Government to improve the competitiveness of Irish tourism.
Speaking in Killarney, Ruth Andrews said the latest official tourism numbers highlight the impact of increased costs and Brexit uncertainly on tourism businesses throughout the country.
"The impact of Brexit is already being felt and this coupled with the Vat hike in the last Budget will hurt tourism.
"Businesses are investing significantly in developing and improving their product...We’re at a key junction in Irish tourism and the Government must take a lead to help restore Irish tourism’s competitiveness at this uncertain time," Ms Andrews said.
ITIC chief executive Eoghan O'Mara Walsh claimed tourism businesses were seeing an average of 28% increase in insurance premiums in the last year.