Record number of caravans recorded at border crossings

A caravan at the Strabane-Lifford border. Border crossings surged in May following the lifting of the 'stay at home' message and the reopening of caravan sites in April. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

THE number of caravans crossing the border surged in the past year, according to a new government report.

Just shy of 430,000 caravans were counted at 15 border crossings in the 12 months to May 2021, the highest annual figure since Transport Infrastructure Ireland began publishing the data in 2013.

July and August are traditionally the busiest months for Irish caravan parks, but last month was one of the busiest for the industry on record.

The figures show how the number of caravans hitting the road rocketed even before Covid-19 restrictions were eased for caravan sites at the end of April.

Some 46,430 caravans were counted at border crossings in May 2021 alone, 6,500 more than May 2019 and surpassing the 44,698 from July 2020.

It followed 41,742 crossings in April 2021, a record for the month.

It comes as the Department for Infrastructure revealed that traffic flows in Northern Ireland returned to near pre-pandemic levels over the weekend.

The traffic flows at 20 sites across the north over June 12-13 was just 3.1 per cent down on 2018/19 levels.

Elsewhere, DVA data has shown there are at least 1,000 more caravans and motor homes on the road in Northern Ireland than there were four years ago.

The number of licensed motor homes and caravans reached 5,134 in 2020, up by 1,115 (28 per cent) from 2017.

The data, collated in a new tourism report from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), comes as Tourism NI rolls out its high profile ‘Small Step to a Giant Adventure’ campaign across the island of Ireland, aimed at encouraging staycation holidays.

Tourism NI is forecasting that the industry can recover to 80 per cent of 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

The industry hit a record £1 billion in visitor spending during 2019, with around 53 per cent from overseas visitors. Tourism NI said “a fuller recovery” may take until 2024.

The new NISRA tourism report has exposed the stark impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality and tourism industry here.

Just half a million hotel rooms were sold in the 12 months to April 2021, 77 per cent down from the previous year.

Bookings for B&Bs and guesthouses also saw a dramatic 83 per cent collapse in the same period, with just 67,000 rooms sold.

Meanwhile, air passenger flow into Northern Ireland’s three main airports fell to just 1.1 million in the year to March 2021. It compares to the 9.2 million recorded in the 12 months to June 2019.

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