Business and Finance

Economic input

Tourism is a “key driver” of Northern Ireland’s economy but compared with the rest of the British Isles it appears to be lagging behind.

“In difficult economic times tourism is not an industry that can move offshore and it has the potential to create new jobs, especially for young people,” remarked Arlene Foster.

The tourism industry in Northern Ireland provides a significant contribution to the economy as it supports 39,000 jobs and has brought new facilities to towns and cities. But while the income generated by the sector has almost doubled since the mid-1990s, its overall contribution to the economy is much less than other parts of the UK.

According to the latest full figures from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the tourism industry earned £529 million in 2009, of which £337 million came from staying visitors and £192 million from domestic spending.

During the same year, the number of overnight trips taken by visitors from the South increased to 475,000, a third more than the previous year, and the highest ever recorded level. Residents in Northern Ireland also took 34 per cent more trips at home and spent an additional £48 million in 2009 in comparison to the previous year.

A report by Deloitte and Oxford Economics published in 2010, ‘The economic contribution of the Visitor Economy’, explained that tourism adds to the economy by generating revenue directly through accommodation and day trips but also indirectly through employment and construction.

It stated that during 2009, tourism brought in 4.9 per cent of overall GDP as well as supporting almost 40,000 jobs. However, the industry generates a significantly lower percentage contribution to GDP than in England (8.6 per cent), Scotland (10.4 per cent) and Wales (13.3 per cent). While 4.7 per cent of total employment in the province comes from tourism, this is much lower than levels recorded elsewhere.

The balance of full-time to part-time tourism jobs here is similar to that in England and Scotland but Wales has a higher proportion of part-time jobs.

There is also “enormous potential” on the doorstep in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation estimates that the domestic holiday market in the South is worth €1.5 billion annually, with holidays accounting for 15.6 million bed nights.

Despite the state of the overall economy, the report argues that tourism is “relatively economically sustainable”. It predicts that tourism will be the fourth fastest growth area in the UK over the next 10 years and that tourism-generated revenue in Northern Ireland is forecast to increase by 2.8 per cent per annum. This is slightly lower compared to England (3 per cent) and Scotland (2.9 per cent) but higher than Wales (2.6 per cent).

Tourism’s contribution to:

  Northern Ireland Scholand Scotland Wales
GDP £1.5 billion 4.9% £96.7 billion 8.6% £11.1 billion 10.4% £6.2 billion 13.3%
Employment 39,000 4.7% 2,157,000 8.3% 267,000 10.0% 172,000 12.7%
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