Southwest celebrates increase in foreign visitors

TOURIST chiefs in the southwest region are celebrating bucking the national trend with an 5% increase in foreign visitors, and they are hoping to attract transatlantic flights into Cork Airport.

More than 1.5 million overseas visitors spent some, or all, of their stay in the Cork-Kerry region the second largest number outside of Dublin.

Outgoing chairman of Cork-Kerry tourism Councillor Michael Courtney said yesterday the region attracted 42% of all North American visitors to

Ireland, while it had a 30% share of European and 20% of British markets.

"The number of overseas visitors to the Cork-Kerry region was up 5% on 2001, with an associated revenue

increase of 10.9%

This was a solid performance when you consider the negative international environment of restricted air access, global economic uncertainty and the reluctance to travel post September 11," Mr Courtney told the board's annual meeting.

He added, however, that tourist-related businesses had to be aware of the change in the mix of these visitors. The region preformed strongly on the British market but, like the rest of Ireland, it experienced a further decline in high-spending American visitors.

Visitor numbers from Britain rose by 13.6% while there was a 9.5% decline from North America. But overall there was growth.

Cork-Kerry chief executive Maura Moynihan said tourism in the region had experienced a remarkable series of external shocks in recent years but was proving its true resilience and strength in depth.

"We have never underestimated the value of tourism to the southwest as it has been our backbone for so many years.

"We will be working hard with industry, the national tourism institutions and Government to ensure the best possible results in 2003," she said.

Ms Moynihan said the main challenges for 2003 would be capitalising on improved air access to Ireland and recovering some of the ground lost through the Iraq war and the SARS outbreak, particularly in the North American market.

"The lack of access capacity had been seriously affecting the country in recent years. At times, even though the business was there, we couldn't service it.

"We now have new routes into the country from the US, including the Philadelphia service into Shannon.

"We also have the new Frankfurt-Hahn service direct into Kerry airport, which is a tremendous boon to the region," she said.

Ms Moynihan welcomed the start of a €140 million redevelopment at Cork Airport, adding that the organisation would seek to establish a transatlantic flight into Cork City in an effort to grow the US market for the entire region.

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