Tourist growth boosts Northern Ireland economy: Overnight visitors jump by 6% in one year... and they're worth £531m
The number of tourists coming to Northern Ireland has risen slightly – reaching levels above those before the recession took hold.
New data from the Annual Tourism Statistics Bulletin for 2013 shows there were 2.1 million overnight visits from external residents last year – an overall increase of 6% on the year before and worth £531m to the Northern Ireland economy.
That is slightly above the figures recorded for 2008 just before the economic recession.
Although the year-on-year hike was boosted by an influx of visitors from Britain (13%), as well as small rise in people from outside the UK and Ireland (2%), there was a noteworthy fall (of 7%) in those coming from the Republic. The report revealed that Northern Ireland's tourism sector saw a 2% increase in numbers of all holidaymakers in 2013.
This was despite positive publicity from events like the G8 summit in Fermanagh.
However, according to government statistics, the sector saw estimated revenues jump by £33m (or 5%) from 2012 to £723m. The growth of the market last year was mainly driven by people from Britain visiting friends and family.
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said she was "very encouraged" by the figures which she showed "a positive tourism performance".
"Our key Programme for Government targets for visitor numbers and tourism revenue have been achieved for 2013 and we are well on our way to achieving our 2014 targets," said Ms Foster.
"This keeps us on track to succeed with our long-term goal to make tourism in Northern Ireland a £1bn industry by 2020.
"Visitor numbers and tourism expenditure are both showing healthy increases and it is encouraging to note that the number of external visitors continues to rise. The key GB market is continuing to show growth with a 13% increase in visits when compared to 2012."
She added: "I also welcome the boost in business tourism with numbers up by 20% overall. These are typically higher-spending visitors and growth in this area is important if we are to increase tourism expenditure and maximise the benefits to the local economy." The figures – published by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency – revealed that the number of external visitors coming to Northern Ireland for a holiday last year was 632,000, virtually unchanged from 2012. Most were Americans.
As well as the G8, Northern Ireland also staged the World Police and Fire Games, while Londonderry was UK Capital of Culture.
The Giant's Causeway in County Antrim displaced Titanic Belfast as the most popular attraction.
The Causeway saw visitor numbers jump by 44% to 754,000.
Titanic Belfast had 604,000 visitors, down 9% on 2012.
Tourism will be further boosted if a proposed air link between Northern Ireland and Turkey is confirmed.
Cruise ships are not included in the official overnight visitor figures from the Annual Tourism Statistics Bulletin. By the end of the 2013 cruise season, Belfast welcomed 57 cruise ships bringing more than 100,000 passengers and crew, with a further five ships visiting Londonderry. Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said the tourism industry as whole recorded a "strong year" in 2013. She added: "High rates for hotel room occupancy continued last year, with the number of hotel rooms sold up by 1% to 1.8million."