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Almost 1m visit Giants Causeway, but locals holiday elsewhere



The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on a trip to the Giant’s Causeway, which saw an increase in visitors

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on a trip to the Giant’s Causeway, which saw an increase in visitors

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on a trip to the Giant’s Causeway, which saw an increase in visitors

The Giant's Causeway is proving to be the most popular tourist spot here - approaching almost a million visitors a year - but new figures show locals are increasingly choosing to holiday outside Northern Ireland.

Visitor numbers from the Republic have increased by around one-third due to the weak pound.

A total of 455,000 people came North last year, according to the Northern Ireland Statistical Research Agency.

But while the overall number of trips to Northern Ireland rose to 4.6 million, up marginally on the previous year, tourists stayed fewer nights than in 2015.

There was a drop of 2% in overall nights spent in Northern Ireland, falling to 15.2 million last year.

Fewer visitors - around 7% - said they were travelling for business reasons.

The number of those coming to Northern Ireland on holiday increased by 10%.

There were also fewer people in Northern Ireland choosing to spend their holidays here.

The number of overnight trips from Northern Ireland residents fell by 11%.

That was attributed to a rise in the number of outgoing flights, in particular the return of Ryanair to Belfast.

But spending is on the rise among visitors to here, increasing by 13% to £613m.

The figures showed that overall estimated overnight trips to Northern Ireland by external visitors stood at 2.6 million.

That was the highest number on record and a 12% increase on 2015.

Last year, 93 cruise ships docked at Northern Ireland ports, up by 26 on the previous year.

As for tourist spots, the Giant's Causeway continued to grow its visitor numbers. There was an increase of 11% in the last year, bringing annual visitor numbers to close to one million.

Meanwhile, visitors to Titanic Belfast rose by 7% to 667,000, but Belfast Zoo saw numbers fall by 6%, to 223,000.

Overall hotel occupancy stood at 70% for the year. It is understood hotel numbers increased during the end of 2016, fuelled by the cheap pound.

The figures showed that holidaymakers and visitors from the Republic were staying for shorter periods, while those from Great Britain were staying longer.

While the number of visitors from the US and the rest of Europe rose, they made up just 16% of total overnight stays here.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said the latest figures "confirm that we welcomed a record number" of overseas visitors to Northern Ireland.

"Visitor numbers from mainland Europe grew by 15%, from GB by 7% and from North America by 9%," he added.

"Tourism Ireland is determined to ensure that tourism growth continues, and we are rolling out an extensive programme of promotions throughout 2017 to highlight Northern Ireland around the world.

"We are highlighting iconic experiences such as Titanic Belfast, the Giant's Causeway and our unique National Trust properties.

"And, once again, we will join forces with Game of Thrones creators HBO this summer, leveraging the huge popularity of the TV series to showcase Northern Ireland."

Mr Gibbons said the key markets remained the rest of the UK, Europe, North America and Australia.

"We will continue to monitor the implications of Brexit on outbound travel from GB," he added.

"We are committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland continues to increase its share of the global travel business."