Belfast Telegraph

Visitors boost economy by shelling out £368m

By Margaret Canning

Spending by overseas visitors to Northern Ireland grew by a fifth to £368m in 2011, latest figures show.

The money was being ploughed into our economy by the 1.5m overseas visitors who spent at least one night here in 2011, according to the statistics from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

Travellers from Great Britain were steady at 969,000 between January and December - but their Ulster getaways were shorter, with the nights spent down 3%.

But tourists from other European countries showed the biggest jump, up 19% to 264,000. Their spending grew 28% to £72m.

DETI confirmed there is not yet any detailed information about which European countries sent the most tourists, or what our visitors have spent their money on.

Nearly two million overnight trips were taken in the province by 'staycationing' residents, who spent £171m.

The number of visitors coming for business purposes was also up 14% to 276,000.

Gerry Loughran, chief executive of the Belfast Visitor Convention Bureau, which attracts association conferences to Belfast, said conferencing could soon return to pre-recession levels as events like MTV's European Music Awards and the Tall Ships had put the city on the map.

"Conferences are one element of business tourism, and we witnessed 86 conferences in 2011 attracting 20,000 visitors who spent 64,000 bed nights and spent £27m," Mr Loughran said.

"At this rate, conferencing is due to return to the levels of 2007 to 2008."

The figures were gathered from the Northern Ireland Passenger Survey carried out by statistics officials as visitors leave through the province's air and sea ports. Visitors from the south of Ireland are not yet available.

Lyn Fawcett, senior lecturer at the University of Ulster, said the figures reflected well on the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and its strategic planning over the past 10 years.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: "The latest tourism figures offer further encouragement that some sectors within the local economy are experiencing a robust and meaningful recovery."