Northern Ireland benefited from a big increase in tourists last year, according to official statistics.
Overseas visitor numbers rose by 6%, to 1.2 million, in the first nine months of last year, compared to 2010. The figures also suggest that tourists spent much more — with tourism income rising by 20%, to £291m.
Despite the higher visitor numbers, there was no increase in hotel room occupancy last year. Nor was there any rise in the number of rooms available. However, there was a slight increase in the amount of accommodation sold by guest houses and bed and breakfast proprietors. The explanation for the rise in visitor numbers not being fully reflected in booked accommodation is likely to be the main increase in NI visitors being those who visited family or friends.
The figures also show a big rise in the amount of domestic tourism — residents of Northern Ireland going on holiday and for leisure trips at home.
One and a half million bed nights were sold in the first nine months of last year in hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation. Some 8% of all employee jobs in NI are within the tourism and leisure sector, meaning that 53,500 people here are employed in the sector.
Tourism minister Arlene Foster said: “This promising performance is very timely given the recent launch of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s NI2012 campaign, ‘Your Time, Our Place’ and momentum will increase as we move further into 2012.
“Tourism Ireland will also be rolling out a busy programme of promotional activity to target a range of potential visitors around the world in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games and will be liaising ahead of the Games with VisitLondon and VisitBritain.
The domestic market and the increasing popularity of the ‘staycation’ holiday is crucial to the long term sustainable growth of tourism in Northern Ireland.”
There was also a rise in visitor numbers to the Irish Republic last year.
This suggests that Northern Ireland is benefiting from a shift of interest by British tourists from the Republic to the North.