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Tourism NI says numbers visiting from south of Border have almost doubled

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An aerial view of Belfast. Visitors to Northern Ireland spent £268m in 2023, a 48pc increase on the previous year’s figure of £181m. Photo: Getty

The number of tourists travelling into Northern Ireland from the Republic almost doubled last year, according to figures released by the Central Statistics Office.

There were 1.3 million overnight trips north in 2023, which was up 46pc on the figure from the previous year. These visitors to Northern Ireland spent a total of £268m (€312m), a 48pc increase on the previous year’s figure of £181m.

There were almost three million overnight stays, ranging from business trips to holidays, another increase of two-fifths.

The findings were welcomed by Tourism NI, which says its own research found that the vast majority of visitors from the Republic had their expectations matched or exceeded. Among the aspects of the visits most highly rated were the range of things to see and do, the quality of food and drink, and the warmth of the welcome.

Tourism NI said the unprecedented number of visits had provided an important source of income for the sector at a time when the post-Covid recovery in visitors from other countries was much slower.

“These results are exceptional, especially given the tough economic climate and the increased levels of competition from other destinations,” Tourism NI CEO John McGrillen said. “We are clearly reaping the rewards of additional investment in new visitor experiences in recent years, and increased marketing and promotion in the Republic of Ireland.

“Our research shows that every part of NI is benefiting from this investment and the very strong growth in visitor numbers and spend which has resulted from it. While there continue to be challenges for the industry, these results demonstrate tourism’s growth potential as we look to the future.”

The south-north growth in tourism began during the Covid pandemic, when holidaymakers were forbidden by health regulations from flying overseas. Overall there has been a 145pc increase in overnight visits from the Republic since 2019, as the initial hike has turned into a more long-term trend.

The south was traditionally a difficult market for tourism authorities in Northern Ireland, with a reluctance to cross the border due to lingering concerns about the Troubles.

Speaking at a conference last month Northern Ireland Economy Minister Conor Murphy said he has been hugely impressed with the tourism industry’s optimism, energy, and ambition. “Tourism is truly a success story of the Good Friday Agreement,” the Sinn Féin minister said.

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