Research by Fáilte Ireland indicates that counties off the main tourist trails were the main beneficiaries of The Gathering tourism initiative.
Last year saw a major rebound in Irish tourism, with foreign tourists numbers up 6.4% to almost 6.7m and their spending up 12.2% to €3.3bn. It is estimated that more than 5,000 Gathering events were responsible for up to 270,000 extra overseas visitors and €170m in additional revenue.
The report by Fáilte Ireland shows that the strongest growth levels in overseas visitors were seen in Border regions and in parts of the Midlands.
The biggest increase was recorded in Laois, where there was a 40% surge in foreign tourists — up from 37,000 in 2012 to 52,000 last year, while foreign tourism revenue soared by 73% to €19m.
Other counties which saw sizeable growth in the number of overseas visitors in 2013 include Cavan, Leitrim, Monaghan, Louth, Kildare, and Westmeath.
Despite such welcome growth, tourist numbers in the Midland and Border counties still lag considerably behind popular tourist destinations such as Dublin, the south-west, and Connemara.
Most fail to attract more than 100,000 overseas visitors per annum. Counties like Leitrim, Offaly, and Roscommon attracted less than 40,000 visitors each last year, while Longford had the lowest number of any county, with just 22,000 or 0.3% of all foreign tourists.
Six counties bucked the national trend with a fall in foreign tourists in 2013 — Roscommon, Offaly, Mayo, Tipperary, Kilkenny, and Carlow — while there was no change in the annual number of overseas visitors to Cork, Meath, Waterford, and Wexford.
The research also highlights how Irish tourism continues to be dominated by four counties — Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Kerry.
A majority of foreign tourists included Dublin on their itinerary, with the capital attracting almost 4m visitors in 2013 — approximately 60% of all international tourists to Ireland. Foreign tourism revenue in Dublin also rose by 10.6% to €1.4bn.
Cork and Galway both attracted more than 1m overseas visitors, while 877,000 visited Kerry. Clare and Limerick were the only other counties visited by more than 5% of all foreign tourists.
Similar research by Fáilte Ireland on domestic tourism shows more modest growth in 2013, with the number of trips by Irish holidaymakers up 1.1% to 7.1m.
Although popular with foreign visitors, Cork appears to have fallen out of favour as a destination for domestic tourists, with the number of trips down almost 7% last year and revenue down 15%.
There was also a sharp drop in the number of Irish people holidaying in Wicklow, Waterford, Wexford, Clare, Westmeath, Roscommon, and Longford.
In contrast, strong growth in the number of trips taken by Irish holidaymakers was recorded in Louth, Galway, Monaghan, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, and Kerry.
However, Kilkenny, which saw domestic tourism up 28% to 204,000, saw no commensurate benefit in revenue, which was static at €29m, despite the large number of extra visitors. Nationally, revenue from domestic tourists rose by over 2% to €1.37bn in 2013.
The research also shows that although British tourists are the biggest single market for Irish tourism, accounting for 43% of all overseas visitors, they contribute only 27% of revenue.
Visitors from the US and Canada are the biggest spenders, accounting for 25% of all foreign tourism revenue, while only constituting 16% of visitor numbers.
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