Britain – Our Number 1 Market

  • Britain remains our number 1 market, and by some distance too.

    Last year Ireland enjoyed visits by almost 3.8 Brits and they spent almost €1.4 billion.  They accounted for 49% of overseas visitors, and 28% of all overseas revenue.

  • While that represents a very large chunk of our visitor numbers, it has been decreasing over the years.  In the early 1960’s 86% of overseas visitors were British.  25 years later this was down to 63%, and last year it dropped below 50% for the first time ever.

    As we experience growth from other markets this figure will continue to decline somewhat, but what is not in doubt is that Britain will remain our largest single market for a long time to come.

    Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
    Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
  • As the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, Great Britain played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science.  At its peak, the British Empire stretched over one quarter of the earth’s surface.  The first half of the 20th century saw the UK’s strength seriously depleted in two World Wars.  The second half witnessed the dismantling of the Empire and the UK rebuilding itself into a modern and prosperous European nation.

    As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a founding member of NATO, and of the Commonwealth, the UK pursues a global approach to foreign policy; it currently is weighing the degree of its integration with continental Europe.  A member of the EU, it chose to remain outside the Economic and Monetary Union for the time being.  Constitutional reform is also a significant issue in the UK.  The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established in 1999.

  • The UK is a leading trading power and financial centre.  Over the past two decades, the government has greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programmes.  Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with less than 2% of the labour force.

    The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves, though the latter is rapidly depleting; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation.

    Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, account by far for the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance.

    Royal Crescent, Bath
    Royal Crescent, Bath

    Since emerging from recession in 1992, Britain’s economy has enjoyed the longest period of expansion on record; growth has remained in the 2-3% range since 2004, outpacing most of Europe.  The economy’s strength has complicated the Labour government’s efforts to make a case for Britain to join the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).  Critics point out that the economy was doing well outside of EMU, and public opinion polls show a majority of Britons are opposed to joining the euro.  However, the present deep economic recession could change that, with the IMF predicting last week that because of its highly indebted economy, Britain will suffer the most as the financial crisis causes the world’s rich economies to shrink for the first time since the Second World War.

    The pound has dropped in value by 15% against the euro over the last 6 months (23% since 2005), and of course that makes travelling in the eurozone area much more expensive for the British tourist.

  • In land area, Britain at 244,000 sq kilometres is just over 3 times the size of Ireland, but is much more densely populated with 61 million resident there.  Per capita GDP was estimated at $35,100 in 2007 (Ireland was $43,144).

  • The British outbound travel market is vast, at 70 million trips, just behind Germany.  Ireland’s share is 5.4%.
  • 3.8 million visits were made to Ireland in 2007, which was up 1 million on 1997.

    Of those 47%, or 1.78 million, were pure holidaymakers.  That is only 60,000, or 3%, more holidaymakers than came here in 1997, and that is not a good performance.

    The main driver of holiday trips from Britain up to 2005 was Dublin city breaks.  If you exclude Dublin breaks, holiday visits are actually below the 1999 level, not a happy picture.  The past 3 years have seen a decline in the numbers on a Dublin city break, and a very small recovery in holidays outside of this segment.

    Ancient Stonehenge
    Ancient Stonehenge

    RTEmagicC_Stonehenge2_02.jpg

  • Overall visitor numbers were slightly down in 2007 and are likely to be down by a further 2-3% this year.  It is improbable that we will see a return to growth in 2009.
  • 10 years ago 61% of British visitors came here by ferry, but the emergence of budget airlines has had a huge impact with 75% coming by air last year.  The car-brought sector is still considerable, and very valuable as they stay longer and visit more regions of the country.  UK demographics also suggest that with a growing number of retired people having time on their hands the brought-car market could be a growth area in the future.  And there is some evidence over the past 2 years that the over 55’s were the strongest element of the market.
  • The Irish born segment dropped to its lowest share ever in 2007 at just 7.7%.  10 years earlier that was at 16%.
  • Per capita spend for British visitors at €367 has not significantly changed in current terms since 2001 when it was €362.  It is of course significantly down in real terms, discounting for inflation.  This may be partly attributed to the shorter length of stay, which has reduced from 6.8 nights 10 years ago, to 5.2 nights in 2003, and 4.7 nights in 2007.
  • In summary Britain is, and is likely to remain for some time, our largest source market.  There is excellent connectivity both by air and by sea.  We drive on the same side of the road, speak the same language and share cultural and historic ties that go back many centuries.
    London's Olympic Site 2012
    London’s Olympic Site 2012

    But even allowing for the current financial and economic difficulties it is evident that all is not well with the British market.  Therefore it is opportune that an in depth examination of the issues and the potential is just getting under way, led by Tourism Ireland and assisted by an industry group.  This group will report in early 2009 and outline a strategy for the next 5 years, aimed at realising the full potential of this massive market on our doorstep.

  • For much more information on the UK market, click here to visit the Tourism Ireland website.
  • That completes this review of Ireland’s top 10 source markets.  The next ezine will attempt to summarise where the best potential lies over the coming years.  ITIC is very grateful to Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, and the Central Statistics Office for the excellent statistical information they supply and from which most of the material used in this series was drawn.
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