North American visitors are the most valuable tourists to vacation in Ireland and these figures will continue to rise given the growth in transatlantic access to our shores, according to the Fáilte Ireland – National Tourism Development Authority – Annual Tourism Industry Review.

Fáilte Ireland’s Chairman Michael Cawley told a press conference on Monday that US visitors in 2015 accounted for €1.1 billion ($1.2bn) of the overall spend by tourism. That is 25 percent of the total spend by overseas visitors to Ireland.

The chairman said “We had a 13% growth in the US market, which has reached a new record level. In the context of our overall numbers it's probably the most spoken about market, but it's the least important in volume terms, but it's very important from a value point of view.”

The past year, 2015, was the best year in Irish tourism’s history. Fáilte Ireland estimates that more than 7.9 million overseas visitors came to Ireland, which represents growth of 11% on 2014. In terms of spending by international tourists, overseas revenue is expected to be up 13% to €4.1 billion ($4.16bn).

Cawley continued saying that North American visitors are so valuable because they “stay longer and they spend more, in general, when they come a longer distance. As a consequence we're very pleased that there is more access being provided this year with the addition of routes and an increased capacity on existing routes.”

The chairman was referring to the addition, by Aer Lingus, of three extra routes from Los Angeles, Newark, and Hartford, CT, in 2016. There is also the addition of a route to Vancouver, by the airline Rouge, for this spring. Fáilte Ireland’s research shows that airline seat capacity for summer 2016 will be up by 6%.

Cawley said Failte Ireland will continue to work maintain the North American influx and he said Ireland continues to appeal to the American tourist.

He said, “We think the proposition is very strong and we think they get great value for money here with their strong dollar at the moment and with easy access.

“We have the second strongest access directly to the United States. For a country of our size that is remarkable. Sweden has two flights a day to North America. Portugal has three.

He continued, “That's why I was so pleased to see the commitment by IAG after their takeover [of Aer Lingus] and Willie Walsh has been true to that and has delivered three new routes this year and we hope for even more in the future.

There's much that can be done with regards to some of the key cities they have links to, through American Airlines, like Dallas would be a big American Airlines hub, we don't have any connection there and also Miami and Denver, these are big American Airlines entry points.”

Contemplating the overall figures of North American tourists to Ireland Cawley said, “So they're 7th biggest group of visitors, but account for a quarter of the spend. That means they're almost twice as valuable as all other visitors."

And according to last year’s figures these numbers are only going up. However, Cawley’s primary message was that the Irish tourism industry cannot afford to become complacent with regards to competitiveness as well as regionality (ensuring tourists get out of Dublin and off the beaten path) and seasonality (bring tourists to Ireland during the off-peak seasons).

Looking ahead to 2016 Cawley said, “We're estimating a growth of 5% in overseas arrivals with earnings growth going slightly beyond that. Again, the influx from the United States moving the average up because of their higher spend.”

On Monday, Fáilte Ireland, announced their plans for a sustained investment in tourism brands, such as Ireland’s Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way which will be key to a long-term growth. Their review showed that business sentiment is buoyant around the country, but as challenges emerge Failte Ireland says they must avoid complacency.

Cawley told the press conference that Irish tourism is well-placed to deliver employment and foreign earnings growth to 2020 and beyond provided Ireland maintains competitiveness and sustains investment in the new portfolio of tourism brands now coming to market – such as Dubline and Ireland’s Ancient East.

Their research indicates that 70% of tourism businesses saw profitability improve in 2015. Their September barometer revealed that a similar proportion (69%) anticipate turnover and profitability growth over the next few years.

Critically, with respect to jobs, two in five (41%) respondents plan to increase the number of people they employ in the next two to three years – including four in five (79%) hotels. Nearly half of the tourism businesses surveyed (48%) expect to employ up to five additional people'; 17% will take on 5 to 10 people and 14% of responding hotels will be looking to take on at least ten more members of staff.

Commenting on the coming season, Cawley said, “Assuming no major external shocks, I believe Irish tourism is well placed to grow again in 2016, possibly by as much as 6%. The access capacity to the country is set to increase again this season, economic conditions in key source markets are generally positive and our brand offering is compelling and improving. Continuing favorable exchange rates are also helpful. This all augers well for the wider economy, with total tourism revenues likely to hit €8 billion this year with obvious consequences for further job creation.”

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