Northern Ireland tourist numbers increasing but visitors spending less
Northern Ireland welcomed more tourists in 2014 than last year - but the amount they spent fell.
New official statistics show that the 2.2m trips made by outside residents generated £514m - a slump of 3% from £519m in 2013.
The drop in spending came despite a number of high-profile events taking place last year, including the Giro d'Italia cycle race and the LegenDerry Maritime Festival.
The stronger pound may well have influenced this fall.
And although external visitor numbers grew by 4% to 2.2m, that compares badly to an 11% hike in the Republic and a jump of 6% in the UK.
The report also said the local cruise ship market has doubled in size over the last three years, adding that 69 vessels docked here in 2014, with up to 121,000 passengers aboard.
Northern Ireland's tourism industry relies heavily on so-called 'staycationers', and they represented half the 4.5m overnight trips in 2014 - a hike of 11% on 2013 figures.
When these local people holidaying at home are also taken into account, tourism saw an overall rise in both visitors and spending in 2014, compared to the previous year. Total expenditure increased by 4% to £751m, with trip numbers up 11% to 4.5m.
The Giant's Causeway was the most popular attraction boasting 788,000 visits, followed by Titanic Belfast on 634,000, with both experiencing a 5% boost in visitors.
Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said the report confirmed the 2014 Government targets for visitor numbers and revenue had been achieved.
"With tourism expenditure of £751m we are now three-quarters of the way towards reaching our long-term goal to make tourism here a £1bn industry by 2020," he said. "I am particularly pleased the number of external visitors continues to rise.
"External visitor numbers are now at record levels having exceeded previous peak figures before the recession in 2007." Mr Bell added that the figures indicated the tourism industry had a strong year in 2014 in spite of challenges such as the strength of the pound.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment report showed a 1% year-on-year increase in hotel occupancy from 64% to 65%, although there was a fall of 2% in the B&B and guesthouse sector from 30% to 28%.
Tourism Ireland boss Niall Gibbons said the organisation undertook "a packed programme of promotions to bring Northern Ireland to the attention of people everywhere" in 2014.
He said ambitious targets for this year will see Northern Ireland welcome almost 1.9m visitors, representing a growth of 6% over 2014.
"This week's Irish Open at Royal County Down has certainly brought an increased focus on golf in Northern Ireland and our 'Home of Champions' golf campaigns have been capitalising on this huge international interest since the beginning of 2015, reminding golfers everywhere about the fantastic golf courses where our champions honed and perfected their skills.
"And once again, we have joined forces with Game Of Thrones creators HBO, leveraging the incredible success of the hugely popular TV series to showcase Northern Ireland around the world."
How these trips compare
NI trips in 2014 (all visitors) = 4.5m ; Total spend = £751m
NI trips in 2014 (non-NI residents) = 2.2m; Total spend = £514m
NI external trip growth 2014 = 4%; ROI external trip growth 2014 = 11%; UK external trip growth = 6%
NI hotel room occupancy 2014 = 65%; Hotel room occupancy 2013 = 64%