There was a 2% increase in arrivals from mainland Europe last year, and a similar rise from North America, according to figures from the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC).
However, the increase in overseas visitors was not enough to compensate for the 4% drop — about 100,000 fewer visitors — from Britain.
The ITIC had predicted a 3% to 5% growth in the overseas market this year, but that did not happen because of a fall in visitors from Britain.
However, the ITIC said The Gathering, a year-long initiative, had the potential to deliver a 5% boost in arrivals. It also said getting to Ireland would be easier in 2013 with a 20% increase in transatlantic services and improved connections at major airports.
ITIC chief executive Eamonn McKeown said the representative body for Ireland’s tourist industry believed the dip in overseas visitors had bottomed out.
“It is not going to be magical. It is not going to take us back to where we were within a year, or two or three, but we think the growth trajectory will be solid and sustained from this year on.”
The ITIC says priorities for 2013 include the development of a tourism policy and strategy to provide a framework for investors and marketers to allow the industry to grow.
ITIC’s chairman, John Healy, said that after five years of difficulties, it was time for the Government, together with the industry, to re-assess national tourism policy within the context of Ireland’s economic recovery.
“A new strategic plan is urgently needed to provide a framework for investment, marketing and implementation against an agreed set of targets.”
The ITIC found the domestic market performed reasonably well, given the fragile state of the economy.
Dublin had a good year with hotel occupancy levels approaching those achieved at the peak in 2007.
Other tourism hot spots, including Killarney, Galway City, and Cork saw a rise in demand over the year.
However, other areas continued to feel the chill winds of the recession and did not experience any recovery from the downturn in visitor demand of the past few years.
The industry said government initiatives such as the lower Vat rate for tourism services, a reduction in air travel tax, and new visa arrangements, had all helped to restore competitiveness.