Fine Gael Dublin Senator, Catherine Noone, has today (Monday) urged the Government to maintain the lower VAT rate for tourism services, following the release of new figures which show an encouraging increase in visitor numbers for the first three months of the year. Just over 1.25 million trips to Ireland were taken between January and March, the best first quarter performance since 2009.
These results show that the Gathering is already having a very positive impact, with visitors from all our key targeted sectors increasing so far this year. The number of visitors coming here was up more than 86,000, or 7.4%, in the first three months of the year. This shows that the Gathering targets for boosting visitor numbers are well on track ahead of the all-important summer months.
Ireland has gradually turned around its reputation as an expensive location, with a recent survey showing that tourists think they are getting good bang for their buck on Irish shores. British visitors are also returning in stronger numbers, which is hugely significant as the UK remains our most important market. For these reasons I think it is especially important that the reduced VAT rate on tourism services is maintained.
If you take a closer look at the visitor figures, there are some very encouraging trends. Trips from North America, for example, are up by more than 24,000. I have no doubt these figures will be further improved in the coming months thanks to additional flights being introduced by some major international airlines. Air Canada will be operating new budget flights to Dublin all year round from next summer, whereas previously it was only running a lower service for three months of the year. Etihad meanwhile will be increasing its flights in and out of Ireland by more than a third from July.
The tourism sector has gotten off to a great start for 2013. Clearly, the Gathering has captured the imagination of tourists, and efforts to activate new markets have been successful across many territories. To this end, both Tourism Ireland and Minister Leo Varadkar deserve credit, and I hope that the remainder of 2013 will be as successful as the first quarter.