Northern Ireland visitor numbers up yet occupancy at hotels stagnant
More visitors spent the night in Northern Ireland in the first nine months of last year, but not necessarily in our hotels or guest houses, according to latest government figures.
The total number of overnight trips to the region by visitors from both home and abroad climbed by 8% in the nine months to the end of September 2013 to 3.2 million, according to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).
It said they were enticed by the warm summer weather, as well as events such as the UK City of Culture year in Londonderry, the World Police and Fire Games, the 'Backin Belfast' campaign and the all-Ireland Fleadh.
And it seems the visitors were happy to spend money, with expenditure climbing by 6% to £539m. However, the boost in visitor numbers didn't correspond with an increase in business for accommodation providers here.
Hotel room occupancy rates fell by 2% for the nine months to September and for bed and breakfast and guest house accommodation by 1%.
That is a result of the fact much of the increase in visitor numbers were accounted for by "persons visiting friends and relatives," the statistics bulletin said. "This group is less likely to stay in hotels."
Of all visitors, there was a 2% fall in the estimated number of overnight visits by external visitors for holiday purposes.
"This is likely associated with a fall in the number of such visitors from the Republic of Ireland, whereas holiday visits from GB increased by 11% and those from overseas visitors increased by 3% over the period," the bulletin said.
Anecdotal evidence from the hotel industry suggested the government figures, which only compare the first nine months of the year, don't give the full picture.
Subdued hotel occupancy after the flag protests in early 2013 had an impact on trade, but a buoyant summer and autumn period, which the figures don't take account of, was said to have more than made up for any shortfall.
Meanwhile, data on cruise ship arrivals for the nine-month period show a boost to activity in that sector, for Belfast at least.
In the period to September, 54 cruise ships docked in Belfast carrying 69,431 passengers and 28,245 crew, up from 45 cruise ships in the same period in 2012.
There were also five cruise ship visits to Londonderry carrying 1,757 passengers, down from eight ships the previous year and 4,789 passengers.
January to September 2013 visitor numbers:
Overnight trips: 3.2m, up 8%
Expenditure: £239m, up 6%