Fáilte Ireland said there was a general belief that there would be strong growth in overall tourism numbers in the year ahead, buoyed by improved marketing and The Gathering, which aims to attract 325,000 additional visitors from overseas.
In its annual review, published yesterday, Fáilte Ireland said tourism revenue rose 2%, or €100m, to €4bn in 2012, while 5,000 jobs were added to bring employment in the sector to 185,000.
However, the total number of overseas tourists — at 6.3m — showed no change on 2011 figures, while there was a 3% fall-off in visitors from the most important single market, Britain, and a 5% drop in spending by domestic tourists.
On the plus side, tourist numbers from North America and Continental Europe both grew by 2%, while long-haul markets recorded a 5% increase.
Fáilte Ireland chairman Redmond O’Donoghue said there were many reasons to be optimistic about prospects in 2013: The level of early bookings, improved air access, and the general economic recovery.
Fáilte Ireland’s research showed 84% of tourism operators expect business to improve this year or at least trade as well as in 2012.
Mr O’Donoghue praised the Government’s role in aiding the industry through €12m funding for The Gathering as well as reducing Vat on tourism-related goods and services.
However, Fáilte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn expressed concern about the continuing weakness of the British market which accounts for more than 40% of all overseas visitors. He is also worried about the unpredictability of the number of Irish people who will holiday within Ireland.
Mr Quinn admitted that Fáilte Ireland has had to introduce a radical change to how it promotes the country in Britain, with the focus moved to attracting short-stay visitors.
He said The Gathering would mark 2013 as a unique year for Irish tourism, with early signs such as 80,000 extra bookings so far compared to 2012, indicating it will deliver on its potential.
A 20% increase in airline seats from the US and continuing expected growth in the number of visitors from mainland Europe also provide grounds for optimism, Mr Quinn said.
He claimed Ireland was also highly regarded by overseas visitors as offering value for money, although he conceded there was little room to cut costs or prices further.
Fáilte Ireland said there was a three-speed recovery within the industry, with Dublin performing stron-gly, followed by major destinations like Cork, Galway, and Killarney, with other regions showing slower rates of recovery.
Overall hotel occupancy rates last year reached 63% — an increase of 4% on 2011 figures. However, there were wide regional variations, with occupancy rates reaching 73% in Dublin but just 49% in the Shannon region and 46% in the East and Midlands.
Domestic visitors still account for 63% of all overnights in Irish hotels.
Other accommodation providers fared less well with a majority of self-catering and B&B operators reporting business was either down or static in 2012.