Northern Ireland

Visitor numbers rise as lower pound helps NI tourism

Giant's Causeway Image copyright Martina Gardiner
Image caption The Giant's Causeway remains Northern Ireland's most popular visitor attraction

A post-referendum fall in the value of the pound looks to have helped Northern Ireland's tourism industry in 2016.

Visitor numbers increased by 12% to 2.6m, official figures from the Northern Ireland Statistical Research Agency (Nisra) suggest.

The data shows a major recovery in the Republic of Ireland market, with trips across the border up by a third on 2015 - to 456,000.

The Giant's Causeway remains Northern Ireland's most popular attraction.

In 2016, it had 944,000 visitors, up 11% on 2015.

Titanic Belfast was the next best performer with 667,000 visitors.

'Very strong year'

The figures suggest the domestic visitor market - overnight trips taken in Northern Ireland by local people - was well down on the previous year.

The value of sterling was likely a key factor in 2016 trends, tourism officials have said.

After June's referendum, visitors from the US and the Eurozone have seen their money go further when exchanged into pounds.

Separate hotel occupancy figures have shown that after a sluggish start to 2016, things took off after last June's Brexit vote.

Tourism NI said the figures reflected a very strong year, with Northern Ireland remaining "more competitive" due to the pound.

While there is a significant margin of error in the figures, there has been a general upward trend in Northern Ireland's tourism sector since 2011, said Nisra.