It is well known that tourism is one of the few industries that can provide regional balance throughout Ireland. Overseas visitors’ expenditure is a key component of the national economy and provides regional growth and jobs. But just how much do overseas tourists spend when in Ireland? And in what parts of the country is their money spent in?
Last month Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority, published research which showed where within Ireland overseas visitors spent their money last year. The data makes for interesting reading and acts as very valuable research to the Irish tourism sector. The full data for 2016 can be viewed here but the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) has looked at the data over a 3 year period and has identified a number of insights, trends and patterns.
How Regions Are Defined
The regional analysis identifies 7 regions as defined by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and are highlighted in the map below. From a tourism perspective a more useful interpretation of the research might be by using Dublin, Ireland’s Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way as regions to measure, and in due course any fourth brand experience for the Midlands/Shannon corridor that might be developed. The CSO regions as shown below are the current measure – please note for the purpose of comparisons with previous years the regions of Mid East and Midlands have been amalgamated into East/Midlands.
An analysis of international visitor spend by region 2014-2016
€4.6 billion was spent by international tourists when in Ireland in 2016, up 9% on 2015 and up a remarkable 29% on 2014. All regions have seen an increase in overseas visitor spend over this 3 year period with star performers since 2014 being the Border counties with +56% growth, Dublin +43% growth and the South-East +33% growth. The West – comprising Galway, Mayo and Roscommon – saw 25% more international visitor expenditure since 2014, the Mid-West +20%, the South-West +9%, and East/Midlands +11%. Unsurprisingly Dublin is the highest earner from overseas tourism receipts with just under €2 billion spent in 2016 while the South West, comprising Cork and Kerry, is the second highest earner generating €849 million last year.
Regional share of the International Visitor Market
Although all regions have grown in absolute terms since 2014, some regions have grown quicker than others and have gained market share of valuable overseas visitor expenditure. Dublin’s share of overseas visitor spend has grown from 38% in 2014 to 43% in 2016 while the South-West (Kerry and Cork) has seen its share decline from 22% to 18% over this period. The other regions have largely seen their share unchanged whilst all enjoyed revenue growth. The increase in share of visitor spend in Dublin may be in part explained by the increasing appeal of shorter and city-based leisure travel coupled with the continuing concentration of air access services. The South West’s steady value share loss between 2014 and 2016 is more difficult to explain. Earnings from overseas visitors increased in absolute terms but at a slower rate than in other regions. The growth in receipts in 2016 for the South West was due almost entirely to the growing number of higher spending US visitors while footfall from other markets, most notably Britain, declined. An explanation may emerge when further data on the length of stay by nationality in the regions is published.
Ireland’s most popular attractions
Dublin’s dominance is not unexpected for a capital city with the largest stock of hotel bedrooms and tourist attractions. Analysis by Fáilte Ireland of the most visited 40 tourist attractions in 2016, both free and admission charging, show a significant number in Dublin although there is strong regional spread of top things to see and do. The Guinness Storehouse (Dublin) and The Cliffs of Moher (Clare) were the most popular admission charging attractions during 2016. A lack of popular tourist experiences in the Midlands and North-West highlights a weakness of tourism product in these areas and a need for investment in marketing and tourism experiences of scale and international appeal. Centre Parcs, due to open in Longford in 2019, should help the region but undoubtedly more tourism product is required.
Tourism as a Regional Employer
In terms of regional spread tourism is a very strong employer across all parts of Ireland when compared to the same period 6 years ago. This data is collected by the CSO with further interpretation by Fáilte Ireland to quantify employment within Ireland’s tourism economy. In total, as of the last quarter available, there are now 228,700 people employed in Irish tourism confirming the sector as Ireland’s largest indigenous employer. Since 2011 there have been 57,000 additional jobs created within the Irish tourism industry, 30,000 of which have been in the regions.
Which Markets Matter to each Region
Finally when looking at regionality and Irish tourism, and adding in the impact of the domestic market and Northern Ireland, it is clear that overseas visitors were the dominant spenders in 2016. Overseas tourists generate over 4 out of every 5 euros spent by tourists to Dublin, with mainland Europeans accounting for the largest share at close to one third. The capital is the more heavily dependent on foreign tourists than any other region in the country. Last year visits from residents on the island of Ireland accounted for 17% of total visitor spending in the city.
In sharp contrast the Border counties depend on residents from the island of Ireland for over half (52%) of tourism earnings, with 31% coming from residents south of the border and 21% resident north of the border. The Border counties are relatively the most exposed region to the fall in the value of sterling and Brexit with 41% of its tourism receipts coming from sterling spending visitors.
The South East is more dependent on the domestic market than any other region, as residents of the Republic account for 44% of total tourism earnings.
The popularity of the Western seaboard with foreign visitors is reflected in the relative significance of earnings from overseas accounting for between 60% and 70% in the South West, Mid West and West regions. In each region earnings from mainland European and North American visitors each make up for between 20% and 25% of the total income.