Tourism figures for 2013 bring us down to earth

The figures for tourism to Northern Ireland in 2013 out last week show a more modest reality than the hype suggesting it’s just about the most visited place on the planet. The numbers visiting from overseas amounted to just 9,000.  Home holidays and short trips and family visits accounted for most of the rest. It’s not a terrible record, much as you’d expect in fact, but it shows yet again the limitations of marketing hype. You have to remember that this is an industry struggling with recession. Francess McDonnell in the Irish Times has a good if obvious angle. Northern Ireland could do with a peaceful summer. Boosts to morale maybe but what was the return on the extra public investment? I haven’t been able to find any coverage in the local media. Is this just my poor searching or might there be other reasons?

The estimated increase in visitors from outside NI (6%) was driven by the GB and overseas market (+13% or 131,000 from GB and +2% or 9,000 from overseas). Those visiting from RoIfell by 7% or an estimated 30,000.

When visitors from RoI are excluded, the number of GB and overseas visitors to NI increased by 9% (from 1.6m in 2012 to 1.7m in 2013).

Given everything that happened in 2013 it would have been more of a surprise if there had not been a major increase in tourist figures….The G8 Summit came to Fermanagh, while Derry was the UK City of Culture and the North hosted both the World Police and Fire Games and the all-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was also held in Derry.

Yet the increase in tourists last year appears to have been mainly driven by visitors from Britain.

The latest tourist statistics show they spent an additional £30 million last year, while other overseas visitors also spent £26 million more than they did in 2012.

What they also show is a somewhat worrying decline in the number of residents from the Republic of Ireland who visited and spent money in the North as tourists.

In 2012 visitors from the South spent an estimated £70 million while last year this figure fell to around £57 million – rasing the question why?

The latest research also shows that in 2013 “two-thirds of those holidaying in Northern Ireland” were “Northern Ireland residents”.

So despite all the big events that took place last year, it appears that half of all the external visitors that arrived in Northern Ireland came to “visit friends and relatives”.

And the majority of people who took a holiday in the North last year actually live here all the time.

What exactly does that say about the return on all of the money that the Assembly invested during 2013 in supporting events like the City of Culture and promoting Northern Ireland as a tourist destination?

For one thing, according to the statistics & research agency, it did not boost employment in the tourism and leisure industries.

In its latest annual tourism report it highlights that at December 2013, the quarterly employment survey estimated that the “ tourism and leisure industries accounted for 54,370 employee jobs in Northern Ireland, 8 per cent of all employee jobs”.

Exactly the same number of people were employed one year previously

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