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Spending by tourists increases...but no rise in visitors

Tourists spent more money in Northern Ireland last year but there was little change in the number of those who arrived to savour the sights.

Some 60,000 more people came up from the Republic of Ireland than 2011 but those crossing the water from Great Britain fell by 18,000.

The fall in numbers from Northern Ireland's largest market comes despite the £11m Our Time, Our Place promotional campaign by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board-- and according to one tourism chief, could be partly attributed to the stronger draw of last year's London Olympics.

However, holidaymakers from North America rose by 1% and visitors from 'other destinations' were up 9%.

The Annual Tourism Statistics Report for 2012 from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) showed that visitors numbers from all parts went up just 5,000 from 3.96m in 2011 to 3.95m last year.

But the money they spent rose by around 7% or £42m between 2011 and 2012, contributing an estimated £683m to the local economy.

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said 2012 was a "tipping point" for Northern Ireland's tourism industry.

"This is a clear indication of the success of the NI2012 initiative and backs up the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's independent evaluation of the campaign that showed it directly generated around £18m additional to the NI economy," she said.

Yesterday's figures also showed that nearly 13m visits were made to attractions in Northern Ireland in 2012, with Belfast's new Titanic topping the list.

But the visitors to the newly refurbished Giant's Causeway Visitors' Centre, which opened in July last year, were down -- though a spokesman for operator the National Trust said the statistics were "misleading".

"This is the first full year of operation for the centre and the visitor numbers to the site are significantly above the targets set for this attraction.

"As a result, we are now seeing a significant return on this investment in Northern Ireland tourism and our local economy."

Chief executive of the Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau Odhran Dunne said he believed London's hosting of the 2012 Olympics had an impact on the number of Great Britain visitors here.

He said bed occupancy in the city had averaged at 61% during the period, compared to this year's higher average of 71%, showing the impact of Londonderry's status as the first UK CIty of Culture this year.