Belfast and Causeway top table for overnight stays
Belfast, the north coast and the Mournes accounted for the bulk of the five million overnight trips in Northern Ireland last year, new data has shown.
The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) annual estimate of how many people stayed in each of the 11 district council areas found that Belfast (1.5 million) accounted for nearly one third of all overnight trips in the province in 2017.
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Just under 17 million nights were recorded in all, contributing an estimated £926m to the economy last year.
Around 35%, or £328m, of that total was spent in the Belfast area, with £194m spent in Causeway Coast and Glens. The 590,000 overnight trips to Newry, Mourne and Down generated around £90m.
The north coast saw the biggest improvement on 2016, with Fermanagh and Omagh and Newry, Mourne and Down all seeing a major boast in overnight trips.
According to Nisra, the 300,000 overall increase in overnight stays last year was worth an extra £71m to the economy.
But it wasn't a positive picture all over. The number of trips to Derry City and Strabane declined from 283,000 to 270,000 last year, although conversely, the report estimated £6m more was spent there.
Mid Ulster also experienced 42,000 fewer overnight trips, losing £10m for the economy and placing it firmly at the bottom of the district table on 137,000.
It was a different story in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, which went the other way - recording 84,000 more overnight trips in 2017 than the year before.
Nisra said the latest report, when taken with other long-term data, indicated an upward trend in tourism activity here over the last eight years.
The study found that 76% of the 1.06m overnight trips to the Causeway Coast and Glens area were for holiday purposes, while 72% of the 229,000 trips in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon were to visit friends and family. Largely driven by the tourism appeal of the Erne County, the Fermanagh and Omagh District recorded 343,000 overnight trips in 2017, some 73,000 more than Derry City and Strabane.
The new report also revealed that the number of tourists coming off cruise ships at Northern Ireland ports increased from 58,000 in 2011 to 168,000 last year, with 93 ships docking at Belfast Harbour. Another nine docked in Derry, with 10 arriving elsewhere in the province.
The Giant's Causeway remains the biggest tourist attraction here, with just over one million visitors last year.
Titanic Belfast is the next most popular site, recording 760,000 visitors, followed by the Dundonald Ice Bowl (536,000) and Ulster Museum (533,000).
A spokesperson for Tourism NI said: "The visitor statistics released by Nisra provide a clearer picture of where our visitors are taking overnight trips in Northern Ireland and are evidence of the increasingly strong performance of popular sites such as Titanic Belfast, the Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coastal Route. Many other tourism attractions across the country also benefited from a record year in 2017.
"Other contributing factors to the strong visitor growth in 2017 include high-profile events such as the Irish Open, increased marketing activity by Tourism NI in the Republic of Ireland and, of course, more favourable exchange rates making Northern Ireland more competitive and helping us to realise our ambition to become a £1bn industry by the end of the decade."