The tourism economy in Northern Ireland is expected to build on a record-breaking year in 2017.
Early indicators for tourism performance from the first three month of 2018 suggest that Northern Ireland could once again record a new high in visitor numbers.
Official figures for 2017 outline an estimated 4.9 million overnight trips taken and an estimated 16.9 million nights spent in Northern Ireland, with a projected expenditure of £926 million. The early indicators for the first three months of 2018 suggest that visitor numbers are up around 7 per cent from the same period the year before.
Although seasonal performance is subject to change through the year and tourism numbers can be affected by a range of events, the trend of cumulative growth over recent years looks set to continue.
Statistics from the Republic of Ireland’s Central Statistics Office also show that visitor numbers form the South to Northern Ireland rose by nearly 30 per cent for the first three months of 2018 and suggest that these visitors are also spending more. A total of 32,000 holiday trips were taken between January and March from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, with spending up to £21.5 million (+11 per cent).
Tourism is a significant driver of the Northern Ireland economy and has been identified as a key growth sector in ambitions for growth. The draft Programme for Government has outlined ambitions to create a place where people want to live and work, to visit and invest, a key indicator of which will be improving Northern Ireland’s attractiveness as a destination.
The sector is well on its way to reaching the ambition of being a £1 billion market by 2020, however, the absence of a minister is delaying a public consultation on a Tourism Strategy. The draft Strategy is now under revision with the intention of extending its timescale of vision out to 2030. This would allow for the alignment of the Tourism Strategy with the Economy 2030, the draft Industrial Strategy put out for consultation last year.
The 2017 headline tourism results were extremely positive. Visitor contribution to the local economy is now at a record high of £2.5 million per day. The number of hotel rooms sold over the year rose by 4 per cent from previous figures, while rooms sold at guesthouses, B&Bs and guest accommodation went up by 10 per cent.
Tourist attractions in Northern Ireland also contributed to a positive picture, with a reported 19.8 million visits over the year. The flagship attractions of Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast recorded a 10 per cent increase and, in total, 38 per cent of attractions indicated a revenue increase.