Tourism Ireland’s target for 2007 is to grow visitor numbers to 9.3m and revenue to Eu4.6bn. The promotable visitor target is 4.3m, an increase of 280,000 or 6pc.
“In delivering that target, we believe that mainland Europe and Great Britain will continue to be the strongest contributors to growth, followed by north America,’ Tourism Ireland CEO Paul O’Toole said.
He said that the demands of the marketplace continue to shift and that numbers could be hit by external challenges such as oil prices, currency fluctuations and global political uncertainty.
“A decline in our value for money rating and tourists’ perceptions of a deterioration in the warmth of the Irish welcome and the beauty of our scenery are issues that we can and must tackle and will require a joined-up approach from all players in the tourism industry,” he said.
“We are only going to deliver this growth if we give our visitor a fantastic experience while they are here so a welcome, issues like our environment and our ability to deliver value for money for the consumer are key.”
For the first ten months of 2006, 8.8m people have chosen Ireland as a holiday destination, meaning a respectable increase of 8.5pc on last year. Tourism Ireland estimate a further 690,000 visitors came in the final two months of the year.
Ireland’s tourism growth (8.5pc) is ahead of the world average (4.6pc) and the European average (3.4pc).
Another record: the number of visitors from Britain exceeded five million for the first time, up 4pc on last year. Britain accounts for 30pc of all visits to the island, and the 4pc growth delivers considerable numbers for Irish tourism.
Visitors from other European countries also hit record levels, up 17pc to more than 2.3m.
Visitors from the US were up 11pc to more than one million for the first time since 2000 and the cut in air capacity following the World Trade Centre attacks in 2001,
American tourists traditionally spend more and stay longer than other categories of tourists. The growth has been linked to the staging of the Ryder Cup in Ireland earlier this year.
The 2007 forecast looks even healthier with the opening of extra capacity to New York and Chicago and possible new gateways as a result of Open Skies. At the moment 30pc of visitors from North America come through England.
While over half the 8.8m visitors this year were not on holidays, the 4.1m figure for holidaymakers represents an increase of 10pc.
Visitors from the rest of Europe are set to jump by 17pc to 2.3m, according to the preliminary figures, making up 51pc of the total. Much of this growth took place in Scandinavia, France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and in places which saw new air routes. The capacity growth here has seen the addition of 92,000 additional seats per week.
Ireland had the highest ever level of year round direct access year from all three core markets, Great Britain, Mainland Europe and the US.
The greatest areas of growth were seen among lower-spending visitors on short-stay breaks and from eastern Europe.
Tourism Ireland say that Ireland’s visitors from key markets such as North America are spending less per head than to rival markets such as France and Italy.
Paul Allen, who is head of research and development with Tourism Ireland, said the growth in tourists was down to Ireland’s unique selling points such as the country’s historical living culture.
Tourism Ireland says that revenue from these visitors is forecast to come in at Eu4.2bn for 2006, an increase of 6.4pc on 2005.
The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O’Donoghue, said that despite many shocks and challenges, tourism had shown sustained growth in recent years. The minister has given an increase of 9pc in budget allocations for tourism to bring total spend in the area to Eu154m.
Within that the tourism marketing fund will be Eu45m in 2007 a 12.5pc increase on 2006 and the largest ever Exchequer budget for Irish tourism promotion.
Speaking at the launch, Paul O’Toole, chief executive, said that regional distribution will continue to be a focus for Tourism Ireland. “There was a more balanced spread of tourists this year which was welcome and overseas revenue is expected to contribute over Eu2.3bn to the regions in 2006.
“These challenges notwithstanding, the fact that overseas tourism punched well above its weight this year, illustrates our continuing attractiveness as a holiday destination.
“Tourism Ireland aims to continue to grow tourism to the island of Ireland at a higher rate of growth than international tourism.
“In delivering that target for 2007, we believe that mainland Europe and Great Britain will continue to be the strongest contributors to growth, followed by North America.
“Tourism Ireland has carried out a major review of this market which identified exciting new opportunities for Irish tourism. We have a new marketing strategy and plans to exploit those opportunities in 2007”.
He said that “a decline in our value for money rating and tourists’ perceptions of a deterioration in the warmth of the Irish welcome and the beauty of our scenery are issues that we can and must tackle and will require a joined-up approach from all players in the tourism industry.”
“It also underlines the effectiveness of our marketing efforts which included the roll out of our new global advertising campaign and consumer website, discoverireland.com, both of which have picked up awards throughout the year.”
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