Culture driving tourism rise

Continuing his countdown to City of Culture 2013, GARBHAN DOWNEY looks at the potential to Derry and beyond of a rise in tourism...

Despite the best efforts of the world recession, Ireland’s tourism sector is getting back on its feet – news that can only bode well for Derry as the countdown to 2013 begins in earnest.

The latest figures show that the hospitality industry is on the rise again on both sides of the border, after what experts described as a couple of ‘horrific’ years for the Republic in particular.

Tourism numbers in the South increased by seven percent last year, while they were up 11 percent in the North in the first six months of 2011.

Six thousand new jobs were created in the tourism sector in the South last year, marking a major contribution to the State’s economic recovery.

Better again, tourism chiefs say that the indications for 2012 are solid – with tour bookings from the likes of the US liable to match those of 2011 at least.

The figures are particularly good news here in Derry, where we are already seeing a culturally-led, tourism revival of our own.

Traditionally, the northwest of Ireland hasn’t done as well as other ‘honey-pot’ areas of the island when it comes to tourism.

But recent statistics released by the Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau, showed that in the six months to June 2011, enquiries at the Tourism Information Centre from international tourists were up by 57 per cent on the same period last year.

The bulk of our visitors will continue to come from across the border and across the Irish Sea.

Preliminary figures show that two-thirds of NI overseas tourists last year came from Britain, while a tenth came from the US.

Meanwhile, the big four – US, Britain, France and Germany – provided the Republic with about 80 percent of its 6.3 million overseas visitors last year.

Already there are 22 national or international conferences booked for Derry during 2012/13 - and that’s before the full Programme of Events for 2013 is launched.

Events such as the Fleadh could bring an estimated 250,000 visitors to the city and be worth up to £40 million for the local economy.

The Gaelic Féile (U-14 All-Ireland Championship) which was staged here in 2010, and which Culture Company would like to bring here again, attracts 15,000 tourists and is valued at more than £2 million.

Already, summer events in 2012 such as the Clipper Festival and the North Atlantic Fiddle Festival, have led to hotels here being booked out.

Conservative estimates suggest that hotel and B&B bed-spaces in the city here will double in 2013.

And it’s not just Derry that stands to gain.

Experience of hosting major events here has shown us that the wider Northwest, from south Donegal to north Antrim benefits as well.

The bigger attractions (such as the 2010 Feile) tend to lead to full occupancy within a thirty-mile radius.

In recent weeks, Culture Company have been meeting with representatives from Coleraine to Inishowen to discuss how they too can share in what we hope will be a very big year.

And at the December meeting of Buncrana UDC, councillors discussed the possibilities that City of Culture would bring to their town.

Representatives said Inishowen had plenty to offer the ‘hundreds of thousands’ expected in the region for the celebrations.