Travel Extra’s Sunday Supplement: The tourism stats that show why Ireland should have been paying attention to Berlin instead of Bristol or Boston during the boom

The arrival of new tourism figures is always the prelude for a past. The Central Statistics Office figures for three of the last four months in 2012 will make cheerful reading for some.

Trips to Ireland were up 3.9pc, with North America up 19.7pc. But Britain was down 3pc. And in the statistical zone in which Irish tourism is trapped, that 3pc is very very bad news.

Ireland’s dilemma is that, in the good times when marketing budgets were fat, we were lazy. We went for a dependency culture, instead of taking the alternative, trying to escape our addiction to four key markets, Britain, the US, France and Germany.

Even spending time and energy building up the German market, which should have been an obvious thing to do, would have saved us from the dilemma in which we now are stuck. British figures are collapsing, not because we are doing anything inherently wrong, but because the British economy is going down the sinkhole.

At the end of the year 2011, the last complete year for which we have figures, we had attracted 7.29m tourists to the island, (+4%), 3.6m from Britain (+0pc), 968,000 from North America (+6%), and 2.3m from Mainland Europe (+9pc). The numbers from our third and fourth biggest markets, France (407,000, up from 356,000 in 2010) and Germany 432,000 (up from 399,000 in 2010) are only a fraction of what the British market was supplying. It is a long way back to the next biggest markets, Italy, then Spain and the combined Scandinavian countries.

Our total visitors from other areas were 395,0000 (+14pc), nearly half of them from Australia and New Zealand, , numbers that our crazy visa arrangements will prevent growing, not to mention our total inability to grasp the subtle requirements of the Russian, Brazilian, Mexican, Indian and Chinese inbound markets.

The figures are not bad. Twenty years ago the target was 2m visitors and it took a long time to reach it. We could still be trying were it not for Ryanair. A look at our peer group shows how impressive the figures are, Norway attracted 2.7m visitors in 2011, Finland 3.8m, Sweden 4.9m Even Portugal got just 7.4m and Cyprus 2.4m. Faraway Australia, for all its size and stunning scenery, gets just 5.8m tourists and New Zealand 2.6m.

Market share is the real indicator of our worth in these trying times. In 2011 we actually increased market share in Britain, to around 8pc in 2011, and still lost numbers. The problem is in 2012 that market share appears to be slipping, accelerating the slide in numbers in a shrinking market. While Irish people are enthusiastic travellers, our annual trips abroad exceeding our population by a factor of almost two, the Brits are not, taking fewer trips than their annual population annually (53m trips last year, 59m population).

Which makes our failure to engage with Germany an even greater tragedy. Can you imagine if we had 8pc of the German market, instead of less than half a percent?

It would mean an annual influx of 5m German speaking tourists flooding our hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses, dispersing wisely into the country side, much further than the end lounge of Temple Bar which is the limit of many of the existing tourists form our biggest inbound market.

They would be hiking our mountains and cycling our cycling trails, if such a thing existed, even Mayo’s Greenways spills unsuspecting cyclists into the paths of dangerous traffic on windy country roads.

To paraphrase a certain former female Tánaiste, in tourism terms it would be much, much wiser to have stayed closer to Berlin than Boston.


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