North on course for five million overnight stays in 2017 says tourism report

Visitors at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace. Figures have revealed that tourism numbers and spending across Northern Ireland rose again in the first half of this year
Gary McDonald Business Editor

MORE than two million visitors, from home and away, bedded down in Northern Ireland in the first six months of this year and spent £417 million, official figures show.

And following a bumper July and August, the final visitor number for this year could be a record-breaking five million, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

The growth - which came across all markets including the Republic of Ireland (up 33 per cent), Britain (up two per cent) and the rest of the world (up 15 per cent) - has been welcomed by tourist chiefs.

“This surge in visitors puts us well on course for our busiest year ever and keeps us on track to achieve our stated aim of reaching annual revenue of £1 billion by the end of the decade," Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said.

He added:“Some £2.3 million was spent by those taking overnight trips in Northern Ireland every day during the first six months of 2017.

"In addition to the domestic and Republic of Ireland markets, growth is apparent across Europe, North America and further afield, with a 15 per cent increase in visitors from overseas availing of the increased air capacity into Northern Ireland driving both business and holiday trips.

“The positive growth has been supported by an intensive burst of partnership marketing initiatives in the Republic, highlighting both well established and new tourism offerings from Titanic and the Causeway to Seamus Heaney Homeplace and the Game of Thrones tapestry, alongside high impact campaigns in key markets across the globe by Tourism Ireland.”

There were 973,000 overseas visitors to the north in the first half (that strips out staycationers and those from the south).

That was up 4 per cent on the same periods last year, and between them they spent £255 million (11 per cent more than 2016).

These "real" tourists came from North America (up 8 per cent), mainland Europe (up 13 per cent) and Australia and developing markets (up 34 per cent).

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said: “Overseas tourism delivers about £543 million a year for the Northern Ireland economy, helping to sustain valuable employment in local communities.

"And sentiment in general for 2017 from our tourism partners overseas (including tour operators and carriers), as well as our industry partners at home (including hoteliers and visitor attractions), suggests that growth from overseas continued into the high summer and autumn seasons.”

He added: “This was a good first half performance. We've been rolling out an extensive programme of promotions throughout 2017 to highlight Northern Ireland around the world, and we also continue to promote the region as a top golf destination, in particular the fact that the 148th Open is set to take place at Royal Portrush in 2019.”

Meanwhile separate figures have revealed that Belfast turned in a record-breaking summer season this year as hotels filled to near-capacity with an increased number of international conference delegates, group tour visitors and city-breakers, together with record cruise passengers and day trippers.

Official data for Visit Belfast shows that in the six months from April to the end of September, hotels in the city reported an average hotel room occupancy rate of 87.8 per cent with peak months June and August recording 92 per cent and 93 per cent respectively. Indeed since Januarythere have been only 45 days where room occupancy dropped below 75 per cent.

More than 40 conferences took place in Belfast over the period, bringing almost 16,000 delegates from across the world and generating almost 50,000 bed nights and contributing around £22 million to the local economy.

Visit Belfast confirmed a bumper cruise season this summer too, with 94 ships and almost 160,000 passengers and crew arriving to the city.

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