The number of people visiting Londonderry rose by 18% in the last 12 months, boding well for the City of Culture celebrations next year, a tourism chief has said.
The figure was supported by tour operator Martin Crossan, who has reported an increase of 20% in his business.
Odhran Dunne from the Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau said 70,000 visitors passed through its office during 2011 — a figure which should be multiplied by four for the approximate total number of visitors to Derry.
“It is estimated that one in four people go to a tourist centre in any town, so it is fair to say that if we had 70,000 then it is reasonable to guess that the city as a whole had almost 300,000 visitors,” he said.
“This is fantastic news given how difficult it is to attract people anywhere, but the City of Culture is definitely proving to be a huge benefit.
“While we are delighted with the increase in people coming to Derry, we won't be resting on our laurels and have huge draws planned.
“People are curious about why we won the title and want to know more about what secured it for us, and we expect that figure to grow significantly during 2012 and 2013.
“There are a number of major events planned for this year including the Celtic media festival in April, the Peace One Day concert in June and of course the home leg of the Clipper Around the World race at the end of June or early July, when there will also be a major maritime festival. The key is to not only get people to the city, but to encourage them to spend money when they come, and they are more likely to do that when they are getting value for money.”
Mr Crossan, from City Tours, said the increase is mostly due to the number of tourists from abroad — but for the first time there is also an increase in the number of people from the home market.
Among those Mr Crossan has shown the delights of Derry to are Hollywood superstar Will Ferrell, Esther Rantzen, Susan Boyle and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
“Getting Derry listed as a ‘must see destination' in the Lonely Planet guide last week was fantastic because it is viewed as the tourist's bible, and a good review by the Lonely Planet will certainly bring great benefits to us from across the globe,” he said.
According to Lonely Planet, Derry “has a great riverside setting, several fascinating historical sights and a determined air of optimism that has made it the powerhouse of the North’s cultural revival”. It lists among the places of interest Free Derry Museum; Tower Museum; Workhouse Museum; Harbour Museum; the two cathedrals — St Columb's Church of Ireland and St Eugene's Catholic Cathedral — the Long Tower Church; the Guildhall, Free Derry wall and the City Walls.