Derry’s tourism body has confirmed that the number of overnight stays in the city has more than doubled in the past six years, with one million bed nights last year and tourism spend also rising over 100% to £55m.
The staggering upward trajectory in visitor numbers has led to predictions that the number of people visiting the city and staying overnight will soar much higher in the coming years, with potentially thousands more jobs connected to the tourism sector.
Figures presented by Visit Derry before Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Business & Culture Committee show that there were 335,000 overnight trips to Derry in 2018 - up from around 170,000 in 2012.
Visitor spend, meanwhile, rose from £25m in 2012 to over £55m last year. Given the growth in tourism to date, this is expected to soar again to £100m by 2025.
The figures were presented by Visit Derry manager Odhran Dunne and chairman Don Wilmont.
Mr Wilmont confirmed that the current Visit Derry tourist information office at Foyle Road receives 100,000 visitors each year, and that the facility is due to relocate to the old Ulster Bank building at Waterloo Place in 2020.
Visit Derry, he said, had a solid working relationship with Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, the Council and the private sector, with over 280 private businesses now signed up as members.
Mr Dunne meanwhile told the Committee that Derry had over one million bed nights sold in 2018 with visitors from dozens of countries, as well as over 500 journalists and other tourism experts visiting the city.
Visit Derry is now working to a “very strategic seven-year plan” developed over the past 18 months to rapidly grow the tourism sector here.
That strategy hinges on connecting the Walled City of Derry with the massively popular Wild Atlantic Way and Causeway Coastal routes.
“We are really keen to see people use the city as the hub to explore the wider region,” Mr Dunne said. “It is not just the city, but the natural hinterland offers so much.”
He said this included Donegal and the wider north-west region.
Overnight visitors have doubled in the past six years and they needed to double again from 2018 to 2025 if the strategy’s ambitions are to be fulfilled. The rising numbers has led to the development of new city and self-catering rural accommodation, with a 12 per cent increase in room stock locally over the past year alone. Hotel occupancy rates and room sales have also risen, with occupancy standing at an unprecedented over 70% during 2018.
Derry’s tourist season is being prolonged by the city’s festivals such as Hallowe’en, but there will be a greater focus going forward in attracting visitors over the low season from November to March.
Beyond Northern Ireland, which accounts for 32% of visitors staying in Derry’s hotels, the two key markets have been identified as Great Britain and the USA, which combined account for 42% of all bookings.
The Republic of Ireland accounts for 11%, Europe 9% and the rest of the world 6%.
This week, Derry will host its largest-ever conference with 850 delegates arriving for the World Congress on Suicide Prevention, which will be held across the Millennium Forum, The Playhouse, City Hotel, Guildhall and Foyle Arena.
Mr Dunne said such large scale industry-related events was something they were keen to develop as this event alone is expected to generate £1.5m for the local economy.
He added that the international success of ‘Derry Girls’ has also proved significant in terms of attracting particularly younger tourists.
2020 will see Derry feature in a ‘Heart of Ireland’ tourism campaign, while the Committee was told that the new Tourism Office at Waterloo Place was being developed at present and that Visit Derry was working towards presenting the best centre of its kind in Ireland.
Mr Wilmont added: “Our vision is to have the city and region recognised as an international tourism destination on the island of Ireland.
“We should be a confident, vibrant and forward-looking city,” he said.