Record year for tourism in Northern Ireland as trips, bed-nights and spend all increase

The Giant's Causeway was the top attraction in Northern Ireland in 2017 with more than one million visitors
Gary McDonald Business Editor

TOURISM contributed a record-breaking £926 million to the Northern Ireland economy in 2017, government figures have revealed.

But nearly half of the 4,851,000 overnight trips (2.2m) were made by 'staycationers', with the number of pure tourists (those from outside the UK and Ireland) coming in at 778,000.

The overseas markets performed particularly strongly, with a growth in spend of 9 per cent to £248m and holiday trips up 5 per cent on 2016.

There were 2.1 million rooms sold equating to 16.9 million bed nights across north's growing stock of hotels, which enjoyed an occupancy rate of 73 per cent.

Indeed all the statistics point towards an upward trend in overall tourism activity in the north between 2011 and 2017, with significant overall increases in trips, bed nights and spend.

Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said: “Full performance figures show we welcomed more visitors than even before to Northern Ireland continuing tourism's upward trend to becoming a £1 billion industry by the end of the decade.

"The Giant's Causeway was Northern Ireland's most popular visitor attraction in 2017, attracting more than million visitors, the highest number of visitors reported in one year for a local attraction. It was also a record-breaking year for our hotels in terms of both occupancy levels and sales.

"This period saw an outstanding summer for Titanic Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route and many other tourism attractions.

"Other contributing factors to the strong visitor growth include high profile events such as the Irish Open, increased marketing activity by Tourism NI in the Republic of Ireland and, of course, more favourable exchange rates making the region more competitive.

Mr McGrillen said 2018 was already off to a positive start, with hotels achieving unprecedented sales during the first quarter of the year and industry feedback suggests continued growth in business this year.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said: “I am particularly pleased to see growth of four per cent in holidaymakers from overseas, with significant increases recorded from North America (up 19 per cent) and Australia and Developing Markets (up 21 per cent). Overseas visitors delivered more than £566 million for the local economy, up more than four per cent.”

He added: “Overseas tourism delivers about £566 million per year for the Northern Ireland economy, helping to sustain over 61,000 jobs in local communities.

“This year Tourism Ireland aims to build on the 2017 performance, growing overseas tourism revenue to £623 million, driven by more than 2.3 million overseas visitors.”

2017 tourism highlights

• There were 4.9 million overnight trips in 2017, yielding a spend of £926m

• Overnight trips by external visitors was 2.7 million - up 3 per cent on 2016

• Expenditure associated with overnight trips by external visitors was £657m (a 7 per cent increase)

• Some 2.2 million overnight trips were taken by local residents in 2017, with a spend of £270m

• Giant's Causeway was the most popular visitor attraction last year with one million visits, ahead of Titanic Belfast (760,000 visits)

• Some 2.1 million hotel rooms were sold last year, with the room occupancy rate averaging 73 per cent

• 112 cruise ships docked at Northern Ireland ports last year - up from 93 in 2016

Top 10 visitor attractions in 2017

Giant's Causeway 1,012,000

Titanic Belfast 760,000

Dundonald Ice Bowl 536,000

Ulster Museum 533,000

Carrick-a-Rede 434,000

Kinnego Marina 430,000

Derry's Walls 419,000

Derry Guild Hall 350,000

W5 323,000

SS Nomadic 269,000

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