The Irish tourism industry earned an estimated €9.3 billion in 2019 – down 1% on the record high of 2018.

9.7 million overseas tourists spent close to €5.2 billion in the country, plus an estimated €1.75 billion by visitors in fares paid to Irish air and sea carriers.
Domestic tourism revenue, estimated to be €1.9 billion, is expected to be at least 2% down on last year with a further €380 million generated from Northern Ireland visitors.
The tourism and hospitality industry provides employment for an estimated 265,000 people throughout the country according to Q3 CSO data, a drop of 2% on the same period a year earlier mirroring a downturn in demand.
Holiday visitors were marginally up (+1%) to close to 5.3 million, while the numbers coming to visit friends and relatives (VFR) were down 2%, with business trips up by 8%.

Overseas demand over the peak July-September months – numbers, expenditure, nights in the country – showed little or no growth on the same period the previous year.


Tourism growth stalled in 2019 after 8 years of sustained growth, with year end estimates broadly unchanged from the previous year.

2019 proved to be a more challenging year for the industry than anticipated. Modest growth in demand over the early months gradually declined as the year progressed. The challenging headwinds included the ongoing economic weakness across Ireland’s main source markets coupled with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the ill-timed increase in Vat on tourism services which damaged Ireland’s competitiveness. Air access services, a proven prime driver of tourism demand, suffered a setback with the grounding of B737MAX aircraft in March together with delivery delays which curtailed capacity, most noticeably on North Atlantic services. The net result was a dampening of demand for Ireland and a drop in revenue earned.


Ireland earned close to €5.175 billion from overseas tourists this year, down 1% from the previous year. The latest CSO data for the first 9 months of the year, showed a 1% drop in receipts from most markets except North Americans with a 2% increase in expenditure in the country.

Over the past five years Aer Lingus have successfully developed Dublin as a hub for transatlantic travel with over 1 million journeys annually now accounted for by transfer passengers and day visitors to Ireland (as reported in the CSO’s monthly release). For example 1 in 5 North American arrivals are now transferring through Dublin Airport.

Overseas tourist numbers were at best up 1%, only marginally ahead of the 9.6m recorded in 2018.

Mainland Europe is now Ireland’s top source market by volume having overtaken numbers from, Britain in 2018. Based on arrivals all markets show an increase in visitor numbers in 2019, however, the data include day visitors and a growing volume of transfer passengers using Dublin as hub for transatlantic travel.

Holiday visits grew by an estimated 1% to reach close to 5.3m in 2019, with a marked slowdown in growth from North America. Visiting friends and relatives (VFR) traffic was less buoyant, down an estimated 2% over the first nine months, while business trips grew by 8% over the same period.


Some key insights into Ireland’s overseas tourism demand in 2019

Demand markedly moderated as the year progressed

Despite encouraging growth in demand over the early part of the year, overseas tourist volumes and expenditure in the peak season July to September were marginally below the same period a year previously. While growth in international travel is reported to have moderated as the year progressed demand has not entered into negative territory.

The number of overseas tourists to Ireland moved from almost 6% growth in Q1, despite the timing of Easter which fell in Q2 ’19, to no growth in Q2 and a decline in Q3. Within the overall tourist volume, those coming on holiday increased by 5% in Q1 but recorded no growth over the next 6 month period.

Average expenditure per trip declined in 2019

Tourists from long haul markets are higher spending compared to tourists from short haul markets, reflecting longer average length of stay in the country and spending patterns. Visitors from Australia/ Asia/Pacific region are the highest spending tourist at an average of just over €840 per visit, followed by North American visitors spending an average of €717 per visit. The average expenditure by visitors from continental Europe tends to be close to €500 per visit, with Germans the higher spenders. British visitors on average spend €264, reflecting the relatively high incidence of short stay visits.

The average expenditure per visit showed a drop on the previous years across many markets. The drop in spending broadly reflects a decline in the length of stay. Perhaps more interesting is that the decline was relatively deeper for the higher spending markets of North America and Rest of the World, other than in the case tourists from France, which had a disproportionate impact on the aggregate level of receipts.

Growth in aggregate earnings lagged the rate of volume increase due largely to a decline in the length of stay and average daily expenditure. This presents a challenge for the year ahead.

Average length of stay continues to slide

The average length of stay has historically been in decline, a continuing trend evident over the first 9 months of 2019. The decline in average stay was evident in Q1 and more pronounced in Q3 this year. During the peak Q3 the average stay dropped from 7.4 nights in 2018 to 7.0 nights in 2019.

While the average stay varies widely by source market, purpose of visit, and seasonality, the drop in Q3 was most evident amongst long haul, higher spending, tourists and holiday visitors from mainland Europe.

A context for tourism performance in 2019

A slowdown in growth in international travel

Worldwide demand for travel continued to grow in 2019, although at a slower pace than in recent years. Slowing economic growth, potential trade wars, geopolitical tensions and social unrest, plus continuing uncertainty over Brexit all came together to create a tougher than anticipated business environment for the travel and tourism industry worldwide.

While there was a modest increase in airline capacity across most regions, airlines worldwide experienced a moderate slowdown in passenger demand growth. The grounding of the Boeing 737MAX and delivery delays of new aircraft dented the schedule and growth plans of many carriers, while tough trading conditions saw several airlines go out of business.

As in previous years the growth rate of outbound travel continues to be highest, although slowing, in the emerging source markets of Asia, while sustained modest growth is evident from the more mature source markets in Europe and North America.

  • The number of people making international trips during the first nine months of 2018 rose by 4% year-on-year, with mixed performance across the world, with Europe enjoying a 3% increase in tourism. The United States led growth in international tourism expenditure in absolute terms, supported by a strong dollar, while China, the world’s top source market saw outbound trips increased by 14% in the first half of 2019, though expenditure fell 4% compared to the same period a year earlier according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

  • Airline passenger traffic, measured in RPKs, is expected to show a 4.2% growth in 2019, compared to 6.5% in 2018, as 5.54 billion passengers took to the skies earning global airlines a 3.2% increase in revenue. International Air Transport Association (IATA).

  • Passenger throughput at European airports was up 4.3% for the first half of the year, dropping to 2.6% in Q3 and to 2.1% in October, the weakest monthly performance so far in 2019. Airport Council International (ACI)

An analysis would suggest a number of factors which contributed to Ireland’s performance slipping below international benchmarks in 2019.

BREXIT depressed demand for Ireland

The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU continued to be a significant factor impacting tourism to Ireland in 2019. The most apparent impact continued to be the relative weakness of sterling which not only lessened the attractiveness of Ireland for British tourists, but also resulted in the UK being a more competitively attractive to tourists from other markets. Ireland already with a perception as a high cost of living destination, particularly in the British market, was further competitively disadvantaged by the increase to 13.5% VAT on tourism services in 2019 which pushed up the price of accommodation, food and other services in an already difficult year for the industry.

‘Perceptional damage’ resulting from ongoing media coverage of Brexit and Ireland’s land border issues is likely to have caused confusion and adversely impacted demand for Ireland in some key source markets.

Access - a key driver of tourism demand - curtailed in 2019

After several years of increasing air lift driving growth in tourism to Ireland, most apparent from the USA, Canada, and Germany, there was less capacity into Ireland for the 2019 peak season. While the airlines’ planned a 5% increase in capacity for summer 2019, a forced reduction due to grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX and late delivery of new aircraft resulted in only an increase of close to 3%. The impact was most evident on transatlantic routes with the curtailment and cancellation of services, including loss of services to Shannon and Cork, resulted in little change on available capacity compared to the previous summer. This undoubtedly impacted tourist flows to Ireland from the US and Canada, as demands increased from Irish outbound travellers and the number of passengers using Dublin as a hub for their transatlantic travel grew. In addition, the collapse of WOW meant the loss of capacity on indirect budget travel from North American via Iceland to Ireland.

VAT increase on tourism services

The decision by the Government to raise the VAT on tourism services from 9% to 13.5%, effective January 01, represented a serious blow to competitiveness for businesses in the sector. The immediate imposition of the increase put many businesses at a severe disadvantage, especially in respect of contracts already agreed as in many cases the increase could not be recouped from the customer. In addition, the price rise caused an immediate adverse reaction from trade intermediaries around the world at a time when the sector was facing into a challenging and tough trading season. The imposed price increase saw Ireland’s competitiveness dented and pushed more potential customers to consider Britain with its soft sterling as a more attractive proposition.

The net result would appear to be that while the Exchequer will have benefitted from an increase VAT returns from the sector, growth has been stymied, aggregate expenditure in the country has declined and businesses have suffered with a reduction in yield, thereby threatening sustainability of employment and future growth.

Lack of adequate investment in tourism budgets

At a time of increased global competition for tourists, and the added risk of Brexit on the tourism and hospitality industry, budgets for the tourism sector allocated by Government in 2019 were inadequate to meet the challenges. As a consequence Ireland continued to lose share of voice in key markets and was not in position to make the appropriate marketing investment in new emerging and developing markets – markets which have proven potential to deliver good growth in revenue and which are critical to Ireland’s future tourism growth as established source markets mature. The supplementary budget allocations from Government at the back end of the year, while welcome, may have less effective due to timing. Worryingly there is a reduction in destination marketing budgets from Government in 2020.

Domestic Tourism in 2019

Current forecast suggest that receipts from the domestic market will reach close to €1.9 bn. In the absence of any official data Fáilte Ireland are projecting that revenue from domestic demand and tourist traffic from Northern Ireland will be down in the region of 2% based on reported occupancy levels and recognising a softening of consumer sentiment. It is also notable that outbound travel by Irish residents has been particularly buoyant in 2019, reporting an increase of 8% in trips and 14% in expenditure over the first 9 months. The growth pattern especially strong outside of the peak season suggests that demand for domestic trips, especially short breaks, may have been negatively impacted by the growth in overseas trips.

Tourism faces a challenging year ahead

Following a year of mixed tourism results and increasing pressure on businesses, the industry is facing into 2020 with caution, recognising the real challenges ahead. The overriding cloud on the horizon continues to be the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit outcome, with the prospect of a ‘no deal’ outcome with the UK crashing out of the EU at end 2020 having a potentially catastrophic impact on the sector. With an election due in Spring 2020 the domestic economic outlook is positive, provided no major shock from a no deal Brexit.

On the cost side the industry is facing increases in labour costs, insurance, services and utilities, while particular sectors have unique challenges.

Global context

The global economic outlook is a little more positive than at times during 2019, with GDP forecast to expand by 2.7% in 2020, marginally above the 2.5% growth in 2019. World trade growth is expected to rebound to 3.3% from 0.9% in 2019, as election year pressures in the USA contribute to reduced trade tensions. Growth is supported by actions from central banks as well as easing fiscal policy.

The cost of oil, a major determinant of travel cost and demand, is expected to dip further in 2020 as oil supply is plentiful. Slower-than-expected global economic growth in 2019 contributed to lower energy demand, with crude oil prices averaging around $65 per barrel (Brent), compared to $71.60 in 2018, with oil prices expected to dip further in 2020 to $63 (Brent).

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast that the global airline industry will carry 4% more passengers in 2020 on the back of stronger global economic growth. The consensus forecast in global industry suggest modest tourism growth of 3% to 4% internationally, although with a note of caution. Tourism Ireland’s targets for 2020, +1% in tourist numbers and +3% in revenue, appear to be modest and would represent another year of slippage in Ireland’s market share.

Key challenges facing tourism in 2020

  • Maintaining competitiveness is the single greatest challenge facing the tourism sector as it heads into a difficult trading environment in 2020. Businesses struggle to continue to deliver value for money in the face of higher VAT rate, labour market tightness, increasing input costs, notably insurance, together with possible currency volatility in the overhang of Brexit- all of which impact tourism prices, customer value, and sustainability of enterprises.

  • Strategic investment in destination and product marketing together with tourism flow management is becoming critical to success if Ireland is to recover sustainable growth. As Ireland faces demand vs. capacity pressure points, reflected in high occupancy and locational congestion, a sharper strategic focus on developing more economic and environmental sustainable markets which optimise the longer term benefits for Ireland. Investment in developing new markets to expand Ireland’s source market footprint is currently less than adequate.

  • Uncertainty governed by geo-political and economic factors always present a threat to demand for travel, including the potential impact of trade wars and political upheavals. Such events challenge the industry to be nimble in ensuring an optimisation of a revenue centric approach to exploiting market opportunities including investment in market diversification.

Access capacity for 2020

The expansion of airline services continues to be a key driver of Ireland’s tourism performance. The good news is that 2020 will see a modest growth in capacity on routes to Ireland. Especially welcome will be the continued expansion of North Atlantic service by Aer Lingus and the launch of new routes and expanded service connecting mainland Europe with Cork and Shannon. Ryanair service expansion continues to be constrained by the grounding of Boeing 737MAX aircraft, while Norwegian withdrew from transatlantic services to/from Ireland.

The principal changes/additions to air services, compared to summer 2019 and which are relevant to tourism include:

From the USA

  • Aer Lingus continues its expansion with a 10% increase in capacity compared to last summer from 13 US gateways, as the airline operates an expanded fleet including new A321LR aircraft replacing B757s. Increased capacity will be on offer to Dublin from Minneapolis/St.Paul, Seattle and Orlando, as well as an upgraded service from JFK and Boston to Shannon.
  • American Airlines will extend the season from Dallas/Ft. Worth effective May 7 - October 23.
  • Delta Air Lines will operate larger aircraft on its JFK-Dublin service.
  • Norwegian Air International withdrew from the market in September 2019 having operated services from Dublin to Stewart and Providence last summer.
  • United Airlines will launch daily service from San Francisco to Dublin, effective June 5, on B787-8 aircraft.
  • Aggregate capacity between the US and Ireland is projected to be marginally ahead of last summer.

From Canada

  • Aer Lingus Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat will continue to operate service from 5 gateways to Dublin as in summer 2019 with a marginal increase in capacity over the season.
  • Aer Lingus has cancelled its proposed launch of service from Montreal.
  • Norwegian withdrew from the market in September 2019, having operated a service from Hamilton to Dublin.

From Asia

  • Cathay Pacific will resume service, suspended over the winter, from Hong Kong to Dublin.
  • China Eastern Airlines, with double daily service from Shanghai to Paris, has expanded its codeshare with Air France to include connecting services to Dublin.
  • Hainan Airlines suspended services from Beijing and Shenzhen to Dublin in late summer 2019.
  • Juneyao Air is to launch a new service from Shanghai via Helsinki with twice weekly departures from March 29.

From Germany

  • Lufthansa is adding frequencies to Dublin from Frankfurt, while reducing service to Shannon to a weekly departure.

From France

  • Aer Lingus is adding a new service between Shannon and Paris CDG, with 4 flights weekly, from March 29, as well increasing frequency between Montpellier and Dublin.
  • Air France is adding a second daily service from Paris CDG to Cork, and increasing frequency to Dublin.
  • Ryanair is launching service from Toulouse and Marseille to Dublin, while adding frequency from Bordeaux and Nantes.

From Austria

  • LaudaMotion, a Ryanair company, is launching new twice weekly service from Vienna to Shannon.
  • Vienna to Dublin will be served with increased frequency by Aer Lingus and Laudamotion.

From Italy

  • Aer Lingus launching new services from Brindisi and Alghero to Dublin, effective May 23.
  • Ryanair launching service from Verona to Dublin.

From the Netherlands

  • KLM will launch new service from Amsterdam to Cork, effective March 30.

From Israel

  • El Al will launch service from Tel Aviv to Dublin with 3 departures per week from May 26.

From Switzerland

  • SWISS is extending the season for its Zurich to Cork service.

From Spain

  • Aer Lingus is launching new Barcelona-Shannon service with three departures per week from March 29.

In addition to the above, Ryanair and Aer Lingus are adding services on a number of established routes from Continental Europe catering to inbound tourism, as well as many resort routes primarily catering to outbound tourism.


  • Ryanair, Aer Lingus, BA and Flybe will maintain a wide range of routes with minor adjustments to frequency and capacity, while Ryanair has withdrawn services from Bristol and Nottingham East Midlands to Shannon.

Ferry news

Stena Line will introduce a new generation ferry on its Dublin-Holyhead route as the new Stena Estrid replaces Stena Superfast X to provide additional capacity on the route.

ITIC’s agenda includes the following key goals for the year ahead as part of its ongoing advocacy role on behalf of businesses and other stakeholders engaged in tourism.

Managing Brexit outcome

While the UK is committed to exiting the EU on January 31, 2020, and is resolved to end the transition period by year end, the final shape of the UK’s future external relationships in respect of trade, regulatory and other aspects is far from clear. Tourism, as is the case with other export industries in Ireland, remains exposed to potential negative impacts. Tourism while primarily depending on people flows is also concerned with continuation of cross-border regulatory alignment.

ITIC will continue to provide an information and advocacy campaign on behalf of the tourism business community to help alleviate any disruption and to protect trade in the sector. The industry will continue to call on Government for the appropriate supports to assist businesses address Brexit related issues.

An Industry’s Strategy for Growth to 2025

In March 2018, the ITIC published an 8 year roadmap for the tourism sector, the output of a 10-month long consultation period with the tourism and hospitality businesses throughout Ireland. The strategy sets out ambitious goals for Irish tourism including a 65% growth in tourism earnings from overseas visitors and 80,000 more jobs nationwide. A number of key enabling factors have been identified together with 51 policy recommendations that need to be implemented in order for Ireland’s largest indigenous industry to realise its potential in the years ahead.

ITIC has committed to continue to provide progress updates on the implementation of the strategy every 6 months. The latest progress update noted that, of the 51 recommendations within the strategy, 13 had been implemented, 28 are a work-in-progress and warrant increased focus, whilst 10 are heading in the wrong direction.

ITIC will continue to monitor the advancement of the strategy with the next report due in April 2020.

Environmental Sustainability

In 2020 ITIC will continue its work ensuring that Ireland’s tourism industry does all within its power to support environmental sustainability measures. It is estimated that tourism is responsible for 5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions – with transport, including flying – accounting for three-quarters of this. The Irish tourism industry already has strong and robust measures in place to minimise environmental impacts and ITIC will work with Government and Agencies to put metrics in place and improve performance.

ITIC working with Fáilte Ireland & Tourism Ireland to deliver for the industry

ITIC is committed to continuing to work with the state agencies charged with facilitating the development of the sector to ensure that investment and marketing programmes are effective in delivering results in a cost efficient manner and in line with the industry’s 2025 strategy.

ITIC will also work with the agencies and CSO to improve the quality and timeliness of metrics on the industry’s performance with a particular focus on key economic data, including the development of a Tourism Satellite Account.

BUDGET 2020 Submission:

Competitiveness and investment at at time of uncertainty




A Competitiveness Report

The Competitiveness of Irish Tourism and how it needs to be improved




Tourism – A Strategy for Growth to 2025: May Update




Getting Behind the 2018 Data



Directors: Ruth Andrews (Chair), Cormac O'Connell (Deputy Chair), Maurice Pratt, Darren Byrne,
Adrian Cummins, Michael Lennon, Dara McMahon, Nick Mottram, Con Quill,
Company Secretary: Eoghan O'Mara Walsh

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