New research shows that coach tourist numbers reached their highest level in recent years in 2014, when 369,000 overseas visitors opted to use this mode of transport to see Ireland — an annual increase of 26%.
This represents a strong rebound for a sector which had seen business decline during the economic downturn. However, the coach tours business remains highly dependent on visitors from the US and Canada for such growth.
Although coach travellers accounted for just under 5% of the 7.6m foreign tourists who visited Ireland last year, they contributed an estimated €273m to the economy, representing an average spend of €740 per visitor during their stay.
Coach tours continue to be a popular holiday choice for tourists from North America, accounting for 55% of all such customers in Ireland in 2014, with 204,000 visitors. In 2010 they represented just a third of the total business.
Over the same period, the British market for coach tours in Ireland declined sharply, while mainland Europe remained largely stable and the numbers from longer-haul destinations showed steady growth.
The number of British coach tourists fell from 89,000 in 2010 to just 27,000 last year.
Some 87,000 visitors from continental Europe took a coach tour here last year as well as 51,000 from “other areas” including tourists from emerging markets such as China, Japan, India, Australia, and New Zealand.
However, coach tours appear to be unattractive to the domestic tourist market, with people born in Ireland accounting for just 1% of visitors on coach tours last year.
Dublin and the South-West remain the most popular regions for overseas coach tourists to visit, followed by the Shannon and West regions. Almost 90% spend some time in the capital, with three quarters of coach tourists taking in Cork and Kerry during their stay.
Figures show that very few coach tourists spend time in the East, Midlands, or North-West with just 6%-8% visiting these areas.
Research conducted by Fáilte Ireland shows the coach holiday season is spread evenly between June and September, with just 31% of tours taking place outside this peak period.
Hotels are by far the most popular type of accommodation, accounting for 83% of coach tourist nights, with just 7% of nights being spent in guesthouses or B&Bs.
CIÉ Tours, which has been offering coach holidays here for 84 years, has reported that more than 50% of new passengers on its Irish coach tours have no family connection with Ireland.
Prices for tours with CIÉ start from €759 for a six-day tour of Munster branded “Best of Ireland South”, taking in Cashel, Killarney, Blarney, the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula and Bunratty Castle. Those seeking a more luxurious experience opt for a 12-day “Emerald Supreme” tour at prices from €3,169 and including stays in Dromoland Castle, the Shelbourne Hotel, and Ashford Castle.
While more than half of all coach tourists to Ireland last year were aged 55 years or older, almost a fifth of visitors were aged 34 years or younger.
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