DUBLIN (Reuters) - Numbers of tourists visiting Ireland rose more than 15 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, data showed, as high-profile visits by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and U.S. President Barack Obama helped paint the country in a positive light.
Ireland’s popularity as a holiday destination has dropped in recent years as price increases driven by a property boom put off cost-conscious travelers.
A subsequent financial crash also put the country in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2009 and 2010.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed that nearly 1.8 million people visited Ireland from April to June of this year, with an eight percent increase in visitors from its most important tourist market, the UK.
Queen Elizabeth made an historic visit in May followed within days by a one-day trip by Obama, triggering a wave of overseas interest.
The jump in visitors in April to June was also helped by a fall-off in travelers in the same period of 2010, when a volcanic ash cloud in Iceland closed airports across Europe.
“Anecdotal reports from our industry partners around ... Ireland confirm a more positive picture overall than this time last year,” said Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland.
”However, we know that distribution of visitors is uneven, with some areas performing better than others. The current outlook for North America, mainland Europe and emerging markets is positive for the coming months.
“The economic situation in Britain remains fragile and we are keeping the market under close review.”
Ireland’s government, anxious to stoke economic growth, has cut sales tax for restaurants and hotels to help tourism.
The tourist sector is Ireland’s largest home-grown industry, contributing over four percent of annual economic output and employing over 200,000 people.
Reporting by Carmel Crimmins; Editing by John Stonestreet