Visitor numbers to Ireland’s leading visitor attractions in 2022 returned to only 58% of what they were in pre-pandemic times, says Ireland’s Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions (AVEA) based on its most recent industry survey.
Figures just published in the industry research survey by AVEA detail that some 13.3 million visitors (13,334,868) enjoyed a visit to an Irish visitor experience or attraction during 2022; this compares to 4.3 million visitors recorded for 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels of 22.9 million in 2019.
Commenting on the survey results, Catherine Flanagan CEO at AVEA says, “This shows that there is a recovery in progress; however, visitor numbers remain a long way off the peak of 2019. Our industry has been hit with a variety of challenges, and while we see the Pandemic as somewhat in the rearview mirror, it is the new challenges of the Ukrainian War in early 2022 coupled with the economic challenges, geo-political uncertainty impacting travel confidence, the rise in the cost of living, and indeed the continued impact of Brexit.
The confluence of these challenges has created almost the ‘perfect storm’ for what is Ireland’s largest regional employment sector, with one in ten people around the country working in the tourism industry.”
With regard to visitor levels in the current season, interim data for 2023 indicates that more than half of visitor attractions report their year-to-year visitor numbers as having not yet returned to 2019 levels. This is true of all markets, with 51% of AVEA members reporting that their domestic visitor numbers are down, 61% are reporting a decline in visitors from Northern Ireland, and 59% are reporting a decline in overseas visitors when compared to 2019.
While some attractions, particularly those with free admission and those located in Dublin and other tourism hotspots, saw year-on-year growth, the greatest challenge has been for those located regionally and rurally. The survey details that ‘just 29% of AVEA attractions in Dublin earn less than €1m, whereas 49% of attractions outside Dublin fall into this category. At the other end of the scale, 36% of Dublin-based attractions earn more than €2.5m compared to 26% of those outside Dublin.’
Catherine says that one of the factors that needs to be taken into account is the cost of travel, “Car hire and fuel prices were at some of the highest levels we have seen in Ireland during 2022, and that certainly would have had an impact in terms of urban and regional figures as we know that people would have taken the cost of travel to rural attractions in-particular when planning their tours, staycations, and even daycations.”
The sixth annual AVEA annual conference will take place in County Clare on October 23rd and 24th during which the owners and operators of Ireland’s leading visitor attractions will gather to discuss how the industry can drive further visitor numbers and elevate their businesses under the conference theme of “World Class Experiences – Local Authenticity,” which will place a focus on how tourism businesses must deliver excellent and memorable experiences to their visitors while remaining true to the spirit of Irish hospitality.
Delegates will hear from tourism leaders Jenny de Saulles (Director of Sector Development Fáilte Ireland), Alice Mansergh (CEO designate of Tourism Ireland), Eimear Callaghan (Head of Experience and Industry Development, Tourism Northern Ireland), and Eoghan O’Mara Walsh (CEO of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation).
International speakers include the Head of Hampton Court Palace Rachel Mackay and Rich Neville, who led the operations teams for ABBA Voyage and the BBC Earth Experience in London. Kelly Molson, MD of Rubber Cheese, will report on changing trends for booking experiences online, and John Harte from ATS Heritage will reveal findings from AVEA research on how visitor attractions meet the requirements of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
The complete AVEA industry survey results and report are now available to browse online along with details of the upcoming AVEA conference, for further details see www.avea.ie