The CSO said yesterday that tourist numbers were strong in March, with 616,000 people visiting Ireland during the month. This was 13% ahead of the same month last year. The increases meant total visitors to Ireland in the first quarter were 6% up on last year at nearly 1.8 million. Visitors from Britain and Europe over the three months were up by 100,000.
But the tourist industry warned that visitor numbers received an artificial boost thanks to Easter falling in March this year. Visitor numbers also benefited from two high-profile rugby internationals.
Irish Tourist Industry Confederation chief executive Eamonn McKeon said the overall increase in numbers was welcome but that it would be “premature” to draw conclusions about the full-year picture.
Mr McKeon warned tourism in the west of the country had suffered in recent years from changing consumer tastes.
Arts, sport and tourism minister John O’Donoghue said the figures confirmed that 2005 would be another “testing” year for the sector.
“There is still everything to play for in 2005,” he said. “What the industry throughout the island needs to do is to remain focused on delivering the best possible value for money for those who choose to holiday in Ireland, make sure they feel welcome and return home satisfied with their choice.”
Tourism Ireland said the increase in visitor numbers was welcome but cautioned that the benefits of the increase had not been felt evenly across all regions and sectors.
The agency said the fall-off in North American traffic should be seen in context and that tourist numbers from America had grown by an “exceptional” 22% in the first quarter of 2004.
“Tourism Ireland is working hard to gain ground and is cautiously optimistic that the increased transatlantic services, which kicked in later in the season, will have a positive impact on this market.”