Tourism numbers edge up - but domestic market goes cold

Rory McIlroy at the Irish Open under the backdrop of the Mournes in Newcastle, one of the major tourism events held last summer. Picture Mal McCann
Gary McDonald Business Editor

NORTHERN Ireland is welcoming more "property" tourists - and they're spending more.

The number of overseas visitors to the region was up by 11 per cent in the first nine months of 2015, according to official government figures.

And these visitors are staying longer (there was a four per cent increase in total overnight stays by this grouping), while they spent £535 million on accommodation, attractions and food and drink.

But the figures in the domestic market are less impressive, and the overall tourist spend in the north between January and the end of September was actually down on 2014.

Given that the period covers the summer high season and was helped by a number of major government-led initiatives - including the sell-out Irish Open at Royal County Down - the figures will be seen as a disappointment to tourist chiefs, who view the sector as increasingly significant to the economy.

According to the NISRA numbers, overall visitor numbers to September 2015 were up 12,000 to 4.52 million, an increase of 5 per cent on the same period in 2014.

The overall visitor figures are based on trips made by overnight tourists from Britain and overseas, and the Republic, as well as domestic tourism (that's Northern Ireland residents taking overnight trips within the region).

Tourism Minister Jonathan Bell said: “It's important we maintain the momentum built up over the last few years in promoting Northern Ireland to a global audience as a great place to visit.

"In general the picture shown for tourism performance in the nine months of 2015 is positive with an increase in overall visitor numbers. I am particularly pleased visitor numbers from Great Britain and overseas have shown strong increases with an 11 per cent rises in both cases.”

When visits by Northern Ireland residents are excluded, the number of external visitors increased by 5 per cent to just under 1.72 million, with associated spend increasing by 5 per cent to £419 million when compared to the same period in 2014.

Overall visitor spend figures are down by 3 per cent to £746 million, but spend by external visitors increased to £535m.

The minister added: “While there's been a slight reduction in visitor expenditure overall, I'm encouraged that spend by external visitors has increased by 5 per cent during the first nine months of 2015.

"The impact of the weak euro cannot be under-estimated particularly in relation to the performance of the Republic of Ireland and domestic markets. This presents a challenge to us all and we must make every effort to promote Northern Ireland as a value-for-money destination to both external and domestic visitors."

He said he was committed to growing the tourism sector in 2016, which has been designated as Northern Ireland Year of Food initiative.

Work is also under way on a new strategy for tourism, which aims to ensure the industry and all levels of government are working together to grow the sector and increase the north's global competitiveness over the next decade.


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