MUCH TRUMPETED BY the Government, occasionally criticised by others — it looks like Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar finally has the official figures to prove The Gathering did what it set out to do.
The number of trips by US and Canadian residents to Ireland last year was up by 11 per cent (almost 1.16 million visits in total) — exceeding the previous record set in 2008.
Visits from Britain were up 5.6 per cent, from elsewhere in Europe by 4.9 per cent, and there was an increase by 15 per cent in other long-haul visits.
Today’s official figures from the CSO cover visits to Ireland by non-Irish residents — and indicate an increase in 7.2 per cent in the number of such trips, compared to 2012.
The total number of visits was the highest since 2008 [6,985,900 last year --- the 2008 figure was 7,839,000, but there was a big drop off the following year].
Evidently, fingers had been hovering above keyboards in the Department of Tourism press office in anticipation the release of the stats — a statement from the Minister landed shortly after the numbers were made public:
“The Gathering was enormously successful in generating additional visitor numbers. The North American market has always been key for Irish tourism where we have traditionally outperformed many of our competitors. The fact that we achieved our highest ever number of North American visitors in 2013 is a credit to the communities across Ireland who staged Gatherings and festivals during 2013.
“Since coming into office, the Government has taken key decisions to support tourism. The 9 per cent VAT rate, which was initially a short-term measure, has been retained. The Air Travel Tax is being reduced to zero from April, and this has helped to secure additional airline routes and capacity into Ireland.”
The highly-publicised initiative, aimed at attracting members of the Irish diaspora ‘home’ for events and festivals taking place around the country came in for criticism from certain quarters — most notably from actor Gabriel Byrne, who described it as a “scam” and said many Irish emigrants had felt abandoned by the Government.
The stats released today also show a decline in the number of Irish residents travelling overseas: the number of trips last year was 6,323,100 — for 2012, 6,325,800.
- First posted 1.35pm