The number of tourists staying in Derry over the summer has surpassed the figures for the City of Culture year, it has been confirmed.
Hotel occupancy rates have soared in the city, with the highest overnight visitors ever recorded for August and September.
The figures were released during a presentation by local tourist chiefs at Visit Derry before Derry & Strabane Council’s Business and Culture Committee on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Guildhall, Don Wilmot, chair of Visit Derry, said tourism was a very important economic generator for Derry, supporting 4,227 jobs across the city.
He said that Visit Derry had set targets for 5,000 tourism related jobs by 202.
“We want our city and district to be recognised as a international tourism destination,” he said, adding that Visit Derry was working very hard to market Derry as across the world as a hub for the wider north west region.
Mr Wilmot said the City Walls were the key selling point, but added that the city had much more to offer beyond this.
“By 2020 we hope to attract one million visitors with visitor spending of £100m,” he said.
Visit Derry have recently moved their premises from Foyle Street into the heart of the city centre at Waterloo Place.
General Manager Odhran Dunne told the Council that there had been 250,000 overnight visits to Derry and the north west last year spending £47m.
So far, there have been 223,000 visitors this year. “We are confident of growth,” he said, adding that, for 2016, visitor numbers have had to be revised up.
He said that the best July on record has been recorded in 2016 for overnight stays with 84% occupancy, as well as a record August with 88.9% occupancy and September has also broken all previous bookings with 84%- up from 72% from last week.
“This is a great indicator of how successful the destination has become,” Mr Dunne said.
He said that more visitors were coming because the destination was seen as a safe place, while the weakened sterling to euro and dollar rate was also impacting following Brexit. Mr Dunne said there has been an uplift in visitors from the south of Ireland.
The delegations said that if Visit Derry had additional funding and staff they would be able to market the destination even more across the world.
Committee chair, SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack said it was “great to hear such good news on the tourism front”.
“We all know what a fantastic destination it is, but sometimes people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes to attract people here,” Colr. Cusack said.
SDLP Councillor John Boyle said the plans for the future were “ambitious” but “doable”, adding that the visitor numbers had proved “phenomenal” over the last few months.
He also listed details of visitor numbers just released by Bord Failte, other regions across the border, adding that there ere opportunities for cross-border co-operation in relation to the Wild Atlantic Way as well as opportunities to link to the north coast region.
“I would suggest we work very closely with our neighbouring councils in Donegal and Causeway, Coast and Glens,” he said.
Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper- himself a tour operator in Derry- also said that cross-border initiatives in general needed to be explored.
Colr. Cooper expressed concerns that Brexit may impact on major tourism projects locally, as it will potentially limit access to European funding.
He also said that the region might benefit further if some of Tourism NI’s funding was redirected towards Visit Derry.
Some Councillors present asked for clarity around the specific area that was being promoted as a tourist destination.
Mr Dunne meanwhile said that coach and camper van parking remained an issue for the area, but said that he understood this was being looked into at present.