Posted on Thursday 26 May 2016 by Ulster Business

External visitors hit record

A record number of external tourists visited Northern Ireland last year, helping to boost the economy by £541m, new data has revealed.

Around 2.3m people from outside the province spent 10.6m nights in hotels and guest houses here, a 5% increase on 2014, the figures from the Department of the Economy showed.

Most of the additional tourists came from Great Britain but there was also a 55,000 ramp up in the number who came from outside the UK and Ireland.

However, it seems tourists from these shores are less keen to take a domestic break.

The number of overnight visitors to other parts by Northern Ireland residents fell by 104,000 while visitors from the Republic fell by 69,000 in 2015.

The latter factor could be down to an unfavourable exchange rate – a weak euro - in 2015 which makes a holiday to a sterling region such as Northern Ireland relatively more expensive to anyone paying in euros.

Still, the boost to external tourism offers more cause for optimism in the industry and is seen as a benchmark of its health.

It also helped to make new Economy Minister Simon Hamilton’s first press release since taking up the post on Wednesday relatively easy.

“Tourism is now recognised as a key economic driver for Northern Ireland”, he said. “The potential for growth is huge. The industry represents 5.2% of our Gross Domestic Product and supports 5.4% of jobs in the total workforce, providing opportunities across all skill levels and all local council areas.”

Backing that statement up, he said he would create a new strategy for the sector to make sure growth continued.

“I intend to bring forward a new Tourism Strategy for the next 10 years to drive growth in this important sector. I want to work across government and with the industry to build an internationally competitive and inspiring destination of which we are all proud.”

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