2013 looking good – positive news on visitor arrivals

  • One could be forgiven for being confused over the past few weeks as we have seen four releases from the CSO, and an even greater number of official press releases on tourism performance.  And here’s yet another one!  The good news is that the number of visitors so far this year is up 6% compared to the same period last year.
  • Just short of 2.5 million overseas trips were made to Ireland over the period January to May, about 150,000 more than last year, and that is most welcome.  The first five months of the year typically account for up to 40% of annual arrivals.  More encouraging is the fact that each major source market is ahead of last year, with arrivals from Britain up 2.8%, from mainland Europe up 8.5%, from North America up 12.8%, and Other Areas up 4.9%.
  • A 12.5% increase in arrivals for the month of May has significantly boosted the results which happily showed growth from each source market. An estimated 669,000 arrivals in May, up 84,000 on last year, combined with a strong performance in March provides positive signals that perhaps the tide is turning and 2013 could be a good year. While the aggregate volume growth for the year to date is unchanged from +6% as at the end of April, the encouraging outcome from May was a very strong growth in arrivals from Britain at +22% compared to a soft May last year – the second month this year of growth from that market. The rate of increase in arrivals from North America in May slipped to single digit (+5%) while year on year growth from mainland Europe continued at double digit (+12%). Arrivals from other long haul markets, although from a very small base, grew by 43%.
  • While top line data available from the CSO does not provide any estimate of expenditure or an analysis by purpose of visit, the data recently published on Q1 is encouraging in so far as it showed an upturn in expenditure ahead of volume growth and an increase in those coming purely for holidays. If that trend were to continue throughout the year it would, after several years, be a marked turnaround to growth in real term income and the volume of discretionary visitors. Interestingly, the increase in earnings in Q1 was due largely to European visitors spending more, in contrast to North Americans whose average spend decreased, compared to a year ago.  The average expenditure by holiday and business visitors appears to have increased.
  • As with previous releases there is no indication of where the overseas visitors go when in Ireland. But anecdotal evidence would suggest that the trend over recent years of Dublin attracting an increasing share is continuing. However, the double digit growth in North American visitors, the positive impact of The Gathering, and the consistently strong growth in demand from mainland Europe should see increasing numbers of visitors to areas outside of Dublin, particularly along the western seaboard. CSO data for Q1 reported growth in bednights in line with visitor volumes, with serviced accommodations doing well.
  • The critical factor on the outcome of the year will be sustaining this growth in demand over the peak summer months. To date the evidence would suggest that The Gathering is stimulating demand from selected markets, while a strong underlying demand from North America and some European markets should carry into the peak season. The unknown is how demand from the difficult and challenging British market will develop over the coming months, but at least a positive start has been made.

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