In their 2016 Assembly Election Manifesto, the DUP wrote about their positive impact on tourism in Northern Ireland, citing the ‘NI Our Time, Our Place’ campaign in 2012 as helping to attract 1,000,000 visitors.
The number of visitors attending the occasion, as well as the revenue generated, were published in a report by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Unfortunately, the report does not explain its research methodology or source the information presented. But an analysis of other outlets, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) in particular, does not contradict the claim.
Putting the campaign in a greater context
NISRA has published statistics on external overnight tourism that date back to 1959. Following a dramatic decline between 2007-09, which can be attributed to an economic recession, there has been a steady increase in external overnight visits since 2010. 2012 was not unique in its attraction of foreign visitors, nor did it break the trend. However, it does fit into the steady growth that has been recorded since 2010.
Growth in expenditure from tourism can also be noted, but the change is not as significant as the sheer number of visitors. For example, as presented in table 1.4 of the quarterly tourism statistics report, there was an increase of 8% in the number of overnight trips between October 2013-September 2014 and October 2014 and September 2015. However, there was only a 1% increase in overall expenditure. This can be primarily attributed to two different factors: the length of tourist visits, and the reason behind coming to Northern Ireland. While spending per night has remained relatively steady, people only stayed for an average of five nights. There has also been an annual decrease in the duration of visits to Northern Ireland between 2011 and 2014. This is compared to Ireland, for example, where the average stay is for a duration of eight nights. A result of this disparity is a lower spending average per trip in Northern Ireland than in Ireland. Furthermore, the most popular reason for travelling to Northern Ireland is to visit friends or relatives (51%), and these tourists typically spend less money per night than those travelling for leisure.
How does Northern Ireland fare in comparison to Ireland and the rest of the UK?
According to a Deloitte report from 2013, tourism accounts for 9.0% of total GDP across the United Kingdom. In 2014, tourism accounted for 9.0% of the GDP in Ireland as well. Northern Ireland lags behind this average, with tourism only contributing 5.2% to the overall GDP.
The increase in the number of overseas visitors between 2013 and 2014 in Ireland was 6%, a similar rate of growth to Northern Ireland’s. However, expenditure by visitors in Ireland during that time rose by 10%, while in Northern Ireland it declined by 6%.
While campaigns like ‘NI Our Time, Our Place’ may have contributed to more visits to Northern Ireland, the contribution of tourism towards its economy lags behind neighbouring regions.