Spotlight on Regionality & Tourism

Where overseas tourists visit and how much they spend per region when in Ireland

Recently Fáilte Ireland produced preliminary data on the regional spread of tourism in 2017. Such data makes for interesting insights for Ireland’s tourism sector and policy makers. Tourism is after all one of the very few national industries that can provide balanced regional development and employment. So where do overseas visitors go when in Ireland and in what regions are they spending the most? The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) has looked at the data pertaining to overseas tourists and has identified a number of interesting trends and patterns.

Top earning regions in 2017

  • Dublin earned close to €2 billion from 5.9 million overseas tourists last year. Almost two thirds of overseas tourists to the country spent at least one night in the capital. While earnings increased marginally (+2%) to €1,984 million Dublin’s share of expenditure by overseas tourists to Ireland slipped from 43% in 2016 to 39% in 2017.
  • The South West – Cork & Kerry – was the second highest earner at €963 million, an increase of 13% in revenue on a 17% growth in tourist numbers to 2.4 million. The region attracted 20% share of expenditure in the country.
  • The West earned an estimated €692 million from 1.9 million visits, as year on year volume increased by 14% and revenue by 27%. As a result the region attracted an increased share of overseas expenditure, up from 12% in 2016 to 14% last year.
  • A noticeable share shift in the distribution of overseas visits and revenue has been a gain for the regions along the west coast (Mayo to Cork) from 38% to 40%, while Dublin’s share slipped from 43% to 39%. This suggests that the Wild Atlantic Way is gaining in popularity while Dublin’s capacity pressures are beginning to tell.


How Regions are Defined

The analysis is based on 8 different 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 regional performance going forward would be by aggregating Dublin, Ireland’s Ancient East, the Wild Atlantic Way, and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. It is hoped this is something that can be incorporated into future analysis.


Change in regional demand and earnings from overseas tourists: 2017 compared to 2016 and 2015

€4.9 billion was spent by international tourists when in Ireland in 2017, up 6% on 2016 and up a remarkable 15% on 2015. All regions, with the exception of Midlands & Midlands-East, have seen an increase in overseas visits and spend over this 3 year period. The Western counties saw strong revenue double digit growth in 2017 however the Border counties saw a reduction in both visits and revenue last year.


  • The western sea board regions enjoyed growth in volume and value in 2017. Dublin and the South East showed little change while the Midlands and Border regions fared less well than in 2016.
  • The double digit volume growth across the South West, Mid West and West regions was broadly reflected in a similar rate of increase in earnings (except in the West where earnings appear to show an accelerated rate of growth). The western seaboard is estimated to have benefited from a €300 million plus boost in tourism receipts in 2017.
  • Dublin despite a 4% increase in visits appears to have only shown a marginal increase (+0.5%) in revenue – in absolute terms an additional €10 million.
  • The South East’s earnings showed no growth on the previous year, with only a slight rise (+0.8%) growth in overseas visits.
  • Border and Midland regions saw a drop in numbers and revenue in 2017.

Which Markets Matter to each Region?

Dublin, the West, Mid West and South West have broadly similar patterns of tourism income, with mainland Europe and North America being the dominant source markets by value, combined accounting more than two thirds of receipts in 2017.

Dublin, the top earning region, derived 38% of its revenue from mainland Europe, and 30% from North America in 2017. Britain and Rest of the World each accounted for 16% of the region’s income.

The West earned 39% from mainland Europeans and 37% from North Americans. The region is relatively the least dependent on the British market for income.

In the South West tourists from mainland Europe and North America spent an, equal amount each accounting for 35% of the region’s total ,while British visitors were the source of a further 22%.

The area comprised of the South East, the Midlands and Mid-East is more than 70% dependent on the short haul markets of British and Europe for tourism revenue, with a relatively low dependence on long haul source markets.

The Border region is heavily dependent on the British market, accounting for 40% of the region’s income, with mainland Europeans and North Americans contributing 29% and 18% of receipts respectively.


Mainland European market is Ireland’s top source of tourism revenue at €1.76 billion in 2017. The market is the source of between 29% and 40% of income for each of the eight regions, with Dublin, Midlands, Mid-East and West each earning almost two out of every five euros from the market.

North American tourists spent €1.53 billion last year and are the top earners for the Mid West region and joint No.1 for the South West, accounting for 39% and 35% of their respect receipts.

The British market, worth just over €1 billion last year, was the No.1 source of income for the Border and South East regions and an important for the Midlands and Mid-East regions accounting for close to 40% of earnings from overseas tourists in each region.

Tourist from the rest of the world spent an estimated €588 million in the country last year. The market accounts for 16% of Dublin’s oversea tourism income and between 10% and 12% of receipts in Border, West and Mid West regions.

The Brexit Impact

As demand from Britain softened in 2017, largely attributed the ‘Brexit effect’ on the decline in value sterling. At a national level best estimates suggest that demand from Britain fell by 5% in volume and 6% in value in 2017 compared to the previous year. A loss of an estimated €66 million in tourism revenue nationally.

Preliminary regional data suggest a mixed picture across regions.

  • Volume and value of British tourists fell across all regions other than in the South West, which showed an increase in tourist numbers and expenditure.
  • Revenue earned from the British market fell more sharply than volume in Dublin, Mid West and West regions. This could be as a result of shorter stays and/or lower daily expenditure.
  • 10% fewer British visitors to the Border region are estimated to have spent more per head than in the previous year with revenue down only 7.5%.

In absolute revenue terms Dublin earned €42 million less from the British market compared with the previous year, a downturn that was readily made up by increased demand from other markets.

The year on year loss to the South East, West and Border regions due to the downturn from the British market was in the region of €10 million each.


Ireland’s Most Popular Attractions

Fáilte Ireland’s recent analysis of Ireland’s most popular attractions – both free and fee-charging – make for interesting reading and the top 20 of each can be seen on map below. It shows that there is a strong concentration of popular attractions in certain areas while whole swathes of the country, most notably the North-West and Midlands, lack similar tourism products. For such regions to properly benefit from overseas tourism, new visitor experiences of scale and international appeal need to be developed. Center Parcs in Longford next year will add to the Midlands portfolio, but the State too must step in and assist in delivering compelling visitor experiences for there to be true regional balance.

CLICK HERE to view Ireland's Top 40 Tourist Attractions in 2017 - Top 20 Fee-Paying & Top 20 Free

Tourism Employment in the Regions

Tourism creates and sustains jobs across all regions.

It is one of the very few industries to provide long term sustainable employment across all parts of Ireland.

The growth in tourism employment has been impressive, with over 56,000 more jobs added since 2011. In terms of regional spread tourism is a very strong employer across all parts of Ireland with 31,000 new jobs created in tourism outside of Dublin between 2011 and 2017.

Most recent employment data would suggest that nationally tourism employment continues to grow and 70% of employment in the sector is outside the capital.



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