Over half a million extra tourists have visited Ireland so far this year compared to 2017 as the tourism sector continues to go from strength to strength.
The January to August figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) come as rumours persist that the 9% VAT rate levied on hotels and tourism will be increased back to 13.5% in the upcoming Budget.
The latest CSO data show that overseas visitors to Ireland increased by 7.6% for the month of August and by 7.8% for the year to August. This resulted in 521,000 extra visitors to Ireland over the period January to August compared to the same period in 2017.
Tourists coming to Ireland from mainland Europe increased by 10.5% to 2.63m, with both German (+21%) and Italian visitors (+13.4%) showing very strong growth.
North American visitors also grew strongly by 13.2% to 1.61m. British visitors increased by 2.5% to 2.54m. Visitors from all other areas jumped 451,000 grew by 5.3%
Fáilte Ireland’s CEO Paul Kelly said the Irish tourism sector had enjoyed a "record summer" but said State supports like the 9% VAT rate were crucial in this success.
“Government supports for tourism, including a competitive VAT rate, have allowed Ireland to compete overseas for visitors, and significant investment from ourselves at Fáilte Ireland in tourism experiences on the ground has created many compelling reasons for people to come here," he said.
Mr Kelly said the Brexit was the biggest challenge facing the sector in the near term.
"The foremost challenge in the near-term is Brexit - sentiment across the industry is already starting to soften and there is real concern in many parts of the country about its potential impact on business. There are also many tourism businesses, particularly in rural Ireland, still operating on very tight margins and facing cost inflation pressures on insurance and wages," he said.
CEO of Tourism Ireland Niall Gibbons also cited Brexit as a concern for the sector.
"While we welcome the fact that arrivals from Britain are up almost +2.5%, it’s too early to say if this represents a turnaround in the long-term trend.
"We are determined to ensure that tourism growth continues. Our aim is to grow overseas tourism revenue in 2018 to €6 billion, for the island of Ireland," he said.