Over 5 million overnight visitors recorded in NI last year

The Giants Causeway remains the most popular tourist destination in Northern Ireland
Gareth McKeown

THE north's booming tourism market continues to grow with the number of overnight trips totalling over five million last year, official figures show.

The tourism data, released by NISRA yesterday shows growth across the board, with overnight stays rising from an estimated 4.6 million in 2016 to 5 million last year. As expected Belfast accounts for the majority of overnight visits, with nearly a third (£1.5 million) visiting the city last year, spending an estimated £328m (35 per cent) of the £926m total tourism spend in the north. This is a slight fall on its market share, recorded at 39 per cent in 2016.

The figures revealed significant jumps in revenue in the next biggest tourism markets - Causeway, Coast and Glens council area and Newry, Mourne and Down. The former welcomed over 1 million overnight visitors last year, who spent £194m, a 42 per cent hike on 2016, while the latter saw spending from overnight trips increased by 47 per cent to £90m from 590,000 visitors. Fermanagh and Omagh was the next highest with 343,000 visitors and a £57m spend.

Hotel occupancy also improved from 70 per cent to 73 per cent over the year, while there was a marginal increase in nights sold, rising to 2.11 million. Over two fifths (45 per cent) of all available hotel room nights were in Belfast, with almost half (48 per cent) of the overall total sold in the city

The Giants Causeway remains the most popular tourist attraction with 1 million visits, followed by Titanic Belfast (0.76 million).

Hospitality Ulster chief executive, Colin Neill said the latest figures show tourism is a key driver of the local economy, but noted the wealth is not being shared equally.

"When we look at the statistics we see that while Belfast, the Causeway Coast and Glens and Newry and Mourne are proving extremely popular with tourists, lots of other parts of the province are not sharing in that prosperity.

"We need a joined-up tourist strategy that publicises and promotes all of Northern Ireland, spreading tourists across the entire region. With our scenery and history we have a wonderful tourist offering and it is vital that we have a strategy that reflects that."

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