Belfast Telegraph

Tourism sector gets major boost as visitor levels up 6%

By Clare Weir

A whopping 20% increase in visitor spend in Northern Ireland in the first nine months of 2011 has put the region on a solid footing for an important year for the tourism industry, according to experts.

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) figures show that overseas visitors to Northern Ireland rose by 6% to 1.2m compared to January to September 2010.

Those visitors spent an estimated £291m during the period, an increase of 20% compared with the same period last year when £242.5m was spent.

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: "It is encouraging to be able to report a 6% increase in overseas visitors to Northern Ireland, coupled with an increase in revenue of 20% for the first nine months of 2011.

"Visitor numbers and revenue generated from trips by Great Britain residents to Northern Ireland have also increased. This promising performance is very timely given the recent launch of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's NI2012 campaign, 'Your Time, Our Place' and momentum will increase into 2012."

Ms Foster said Tourism Ireland will be rolling out a programme of promotional activity to target international visitors.

She said 'staycations' were equally crucial to tourism growth, noting that Northern Ireland residents took 1.5m overnight trips within Northern Ireland during the period, spending £121m.

Residents also took 1.8m tourism day trips within Northern Ireland.

Michael Williamson, a director at management consultancy ASM Howarth and specialist in the hotel and tourism industry, said NISRA's figures reflected other research which had been carried out throughout the year.

"Quarter one was relatively weak as far as the hotels industry was concerned but quarter two and three were very strong, particularly in Belfast," he said.

"That comes against a poor year of performance in 2010 and we have seen a heck of an uplift on domestic overnight stays.

"These figures are certainly good news against the backdrop of a difficult economic climate and is a good platform on which to build for 2012 and 2013."

From January to September around 1.5m hotel and guesthouse rooms were sold, which represents an increase of 3% on the year before, according to NISRA.