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Cross-border tourism has tripled in ten years – all-island report

The joint research from Ulster University and Dublin City University found that there were differences in economic impact in Ireland compared to Northern Ireland.

More than 1.3 million cross-border visits were made to Northern Ireland in 2023, compared to almost 400,000 in 2013.

International visits grew by 33 percent in Northern Ireland and 46 percent south of the border between 2013 and 2019.

The authors said that “despite some public commentary that many people from the Republic of Ireland never travel to NI”, the number of trips from south of the border to Northern Ireland has “increased dramatically” over the past decade.

“In 2013, on average, fewer than 100,000 cross-border trips were made per quarter, a number that has grown to more than 300,000 by 2023. In the years following the pandemic, more than 200,000 trips were recorded per quarter,” the report said.

The research shows that all visitors to Northern Ireland are visiting friends or family more often than they are on holiday or business, and almost half of that number will stay with them, significantly reducing accommodation income.

Tourists from Paris Nelly Michoux (left) and Isabelle Nguyen take a selfie in Dublin (PA)

Visitors from Britain are crucial to both parts of the island, the research shows, but the scale is different: they make up two-thirds of visitors to Northern Ireland, compared to a third in Ireland.

The report shows that people are spending fewer nights in Northern Ireland, especially when it comes to long-distance travellers.

A “vibrant and resilient” tourism industry was also found in both Northern Ireland and Ireland, with “strong evidence” of a recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the report, Ireland had around 4.3 times as much travel by international visitors compared to Northern Ireland in 2019, but 7.6 times as much expenditure.

The volume of domestic tourism travel in Northern Ireland remained static at around two million per year in the decade from 2011.

South of the border, the volume of intrastate tourism increased from 6.5 million to 11 million trips over the same period, likely reflecting stronger economic performance.

Ana Desmond, senior economist at the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, said the tourism sector across the island of Ireland has “shown remarkable growth and resilience” in recent years.

“This research has shown how the international and domestic visitor market has both grown and diversified, with recent key findings including the sharp and sustained increase in domestic cross-border visits to NI since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The growth and development of tourism is a natural area for island-wide cooperation and has been ongoing for many years. The sector has demonstrated its ability to adapt to external challenges and recover strongly.

“It will need this quality to address the current challenges identified by companies on both sides of the border, including labor shortages and concerns about the cost of doing business.”

Professor John Doyle, vice-president for research at Dublin City University, said the research “highlights a real opportunity for economic growth, for businesses to grow their incomes and profitability, and for better wages in the sector”.

“Collaboration will benefit both parts of the island, but given the more developed tourism sector in the Republic, it should benefit Northern Ireland to a much greater extent.

“To close the gap with the Republic, public policy must go beyond current levels of cooperation, to build a single tourism offer, in the areas of marketing, visa requirements, tax and regional development policies and, perhaps most crucially , in the field of the visitor experience.”

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