More than 9,000 people are employed in accommodation and the hospitality sector in the county and 13% of all overseas tourists in Ireland visit the Kingdom.
The study shows Kerry is also a strong favourite for Irish tourists, with domestic tourism accounting for almost 700,000 visitors, but the county’s market share had declined.
One in three American visitors to Ireland include Kerry in their itinerary. They are “the most valuable visitors” to the county, generating 40% of overseas income, according to Joan McCarthy, head of the county council’s tourism unit.
Already Kerry has 50,000 tourist beds — the largest concentration of guest accommodation outside of Dublin. Of these, 20,000 are in the “formal approved sector”, so most beds are in unapproved B&Bs, second homes and houses to rent. The online Airbnb service sector is still relatively small, with 500 registered properties, but is set to grow.
Tourism officer, John Griffin, outlined a number of ambitious new projects including work at Ballyseedy near Tralee to link the Kerry Way between Renard in south Kerry and Tarbert in North Kerry and on to west Limerick creating 120 miles of greenway. Other projects include a mobile observatory for star-gazing in South Kerry’s Dark Sky Reserve.
Kerry Airport is vital to tourism, and a new link with Austria is delivering busloads of tourists now, Mr Griffin said.