It’s Official – The Irish market held up better than inbound tourism last year

The downturn last year in the level of demand for travel by Irish residents was not as deep as in the number of inbound tourists. However, we spent less on travel both at home and abroad. These are the latest findings from CSO.¹

The gap between what we earn from tourism and what we spend on overseas travel has widened, leaving a €2 billion negative balance of payment in our national tourism account.

Irish residents made as many trips within Ireland in 2009 as in 2008.
An estimated 8.34 million trips were taken within Ireland by residents last year, unchanged from the previous year. However, the composition of demand by reason for travel showed some year on year changes, with the number of trips to visit friends and relatives marginally up, while holiday/leisure and business trips declined, by 8% and 9% respectively.

While the volume of travel was almost unchanged expenditure on domestic travel was down 10% to €1.39 billion. Of this, €843 million was from holiday/leisure trips, down 18% on the previous year. Spending on business trips was down 16% to €136 million, with VFR trip expenditure down 20% to €171 million.

A total of 26 million overnights were spent away from home, showing little change on the previous year, with the average length of stay holding at 3.1 nights. Over the year the average holiday trip was 3.6 nights, while business and VFR averaged 2.4 and 2.6 nights respectively.

The over 50’s continue to account for just over 2 out of every 5 trips, although the number of trips this age cohort took in 2009 was down 4% to 3.47 million, but the number of nights away from home was unchanged. The number of trips by 20-49 year olds increased by 4% to 3.1 million, with an almost equal increase in nights away from home, while the under 19 age group generated 1.8 million trips with a slight decrease in their average length of trip.

The Southern & Eastern region (Dublin, East, South East, South West and Mid West) was the destination for two thirds of the demand, with the balance going to the Border, Midland and Western region – unchanged from the year before. Domestic travel expenditure appears to have held up better in the Border, Midland & Western region at €468 million, down only 3% on the previous year, compared to a drop of 13.5% in spending to €922 million in the Southern & Eastern region.

The pattern of demand for the various categories of accommodation in 2009 was almost the same as in 2008, with hotels being used on 41% of all trips, generating just under 30% of bed nights away from home.

Homes of family and friends was the accommodation choice for 35% of trips, accounting for 31% of bed nights, with own holiday homes accounting for a further 12% of bed nights.

Domestic market bed nights spent in Guesthouses/B&Bs declined by 14%, while the volume of nights spent in camping and caravanning fell by 21% last year, the latter appears to have more to do with shortening length of stay than loss of market share, perhaps weather related.

As you would expect the average length of stay tends to be longest in rented/self catering accommodation and own holiday homes, and shorter in paid serviced accommodations.

The internet continues to grow in popularity and is now the top preferred method of booking – last year 26% of trips booked accommodation online accounting for 22% of total nights away from home. The use of the internet as a means of making reservations has almost doubled over the past 3 years, to over 2.2 million bookings last year. Direct bookings by phone have slipped somewhat in recent years but the phone is still the preferred means of booking for 24% of trips, handling 23% of bed nights.

Domestic holidays down 8% in 2009.
Irish residents tried to keep up the number of holiday trips within Ireland in 2009, but cut back on average expenditure per trip. The number of these holiday trips slipped by 8% to just over 4 million last year, but the value of such trips was down by 18% to €843 million. The volume of holiday demand, despite the downturn, is still very sizeable and not far off the peak in 2008.

Holiday trips taken during the peak quarter (July–September) were down only 5%, although expenditure showed a deeper cut down 21% to €353million. The downturn in receipts over the other months was slightly less sharp although still in double figures.

Travel balance of payment gap widens as earnings from incoming tourism contracts more sharply than spending abroad by Irish.
As a nation we spent €2.27 billion more on overseas travel than we earned from overseas visitors in 2009. Last year was another year of an increasing net outflow in the national tourism account with the gap quadrupling over the past four years as Irish residents continued to spend more each year up to 2008 on foreign travel while revenues from overseas visitors have been in decline since 2007.

However, the Irish did tighten their collective foreign travel belts last year spending €900 million less on travel abroad. None-the-less this amounted €6.15 billion spent on overseas travel, down 11% on the previous year. This compares to a total of €3.88 billion spent by out-of state visitors in Ireland, a drop of 19%.

Foreign travel trips out of Ireland down 10.5% with sharpest drop on routes to Europe and North America.
Irish residents took 10% fewer trips overseas last year, with just over 7 million trips of which almost 200,000 were day trips.²

The number of foreign holidays declined by 14% to 4.1 million, while business trips at 731,000 were down by a fifth (-21%) on the previous year. VFR travel was only marginally down at 1.76 million trips. It would appear that the number of nights spent away on holiday was cut back by 18%.

Holiday spending by Irish abroad contracted by 17% last year to €4.15 billion, while expenditure on business trips was down by almost a quarter (-23%) to €744. As was the case with the inbound market, VFR outbound travel proved to be the more recession proof with their foreign expenditure down only 2%.

Irish outbound travel on routes to mainland Europe at 3.86 million was down 15% on the previous year, while travel to North America contracted by 23% to 402,000. The aggregate number of Irish travelling on cross-channel routes was only 1% below the previous year at almost 2.8 million. Interestingly, sea routes regained share of the Irish outbound market with an 18% growth to 421,000 passengers, compared to a 4% drop to 2.36 million trips on air services.

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¹Household Travel Survey, Quarter 4 2009 – published April 29th 2010, and Tourism & Travel 2009 – published April 30th 2009
²Based on data from CSO’s Tourism & Travel 2009 (April 30th 2010), without reconcilliation with data from CSO Household Travel Survey Q4 2009 (April 29th 2010)

May 6th 2010

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