The release by NISRA of the 2017 tourism statistics show a solid performance with growth in terms of visitors and spend. The results note a record year with £926m of expenditure across all markets and a record number of visitors from overseas. Northern Ireland is becoming more popular as a destination.
Drilling into the statistics gives an interesting insight into the sector in Northern Ireland as Janice Gault, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) explains:
“Delving behind the headline figures shows interesting patterns emerging. Hotels continue to be the dominant player in terms of accommodation with over 2.1m rooms sold and 73% occupancy. Other serviced accommodation is sitting at 37% with self-catering recording a figure of 34%.
“Tourism is a good news story with visitor numbers from overseas reaching record levels, spend up and holiday makers choosing Northern Ireland as a destination. Overseas visitors are great news for the economy as their contribution is classed an as export which delivered £657m into Northern Ireland in 2017.
“Of particular note is the ROI market which denotes an awareness of Northern Ireland as a destination and increased promotional activity in that market. Tourism Northern Ireland (TNI) has reviewed this market in some detail revealing the opportunities we have with our closest neighbour. The NIHF has worked closely with TNI over the last number of years developing bespoke promotional campaigns. Many businesses have taken advantage of a good exchange rate, working collaboratively within the sector and benefiting from additional market intelligence. The significance of this activity is evidenced by a substantial increase of 29% in spend which now sits at £90m and a 49% increase in the number of holiday makers.”
As hotel numbers reach record heights, an increase of 16% across all markets in the holiday segment is positive. However, the industry would have concerns about the performance of the business traveller segment which fell by 8% in 2017, as a result of a marked reduction in those coming from GB and ROI markets. The business traveller is of particular interest to the hotel sector and it is therefore vital that this audience is treated as a priority segment.
By the end of 2018 there will be an additional 500,000 hotel rooms to sell and it is important that growth continues to meet the increase in supply. The 2017 figures give rise for optimism but in order to reach our true potential and catch up with other destinations it is imperative that Tourism is seen as a priority sector for Northern Ireland with policies that reflect its role as a key economic driver.