The number of tourists visiting Ireland increased by 7% in 2011, new figures have revealed.
According to a year-end review by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC), the increase, which is the first in four years, represents a turning point for the tourism sector.
The eyes of the world were on Ireland in May when both the Queen and US President Barack Obama made historic visits, which were believed to have helped the tourism industry.
But ITIC chairman John Healy said the Government had also played a part in the tourism boost.
“The estimated results for 2011 mark a turning point in what generally has been a year of positive developments for the tourism industry, including recognition by Government of the role tourism can play in the country’s economic recovery,” said Mr Healy.
“It was particularly pleasing that growth in the numbers employed in the sector also returned, with 6,000 jobs added after seasonal adjustments over the last two quarters.”
The ITIC report also showed that arrivals from mainland Europe were up 10%, visits from the US increased by 8% and arrivals from the UK rose by 5%.
Mr Healy said a reduction of the VAT rate on tourism-related activities to 9% was a crucial factor in the industry’s recovery as it helped restore lost competitiveness in the markets.
The reduced VAT rate, which took effect in the summer, applies to hotels, restaurants, cinema and concert tickets, and other leisure activities.
The industry aims to attract more tourists by ensuring costs are competitive.
But Mr Healy warned the industry still has a long way to go before achieving the same success of its peak.
“While the industry yet again proved its resilience it is still a long way off the level of demand enjoyed in 2007, the record year for Irish tourism,” he said.
The ITIC has called for the industry to implement a more targeted marketing approach in attracting tourists to Ireland.
It pointed out that there are certain countries where Ireland cannot afford to market itself, including Germany.
But the industry could benefit by targeting cities where the public is known to have specific interests, such as in live music or walking.