Northern Ireland welcomed more than 400,000 visitors from overseas in the first quarter of the year, up by eight per cent on the same period last year.
The figures, released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), reveal that revenue from those visitors grew byseven per cent to more than £98 million.
“I am particularly pleased to see growth of 23% in holidaymakers from overseas, with significant increases recorded from GB (23%), North America (31%) and Mainland Europe (32%),” said Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland.”
“Overseas tourism delivers about £543m per year for the Northern Ireland economy, helping to sustain valuable employment in local communities.
“Tourism Ireland is determined to ensure that growth continues and we are rolling out an extensive programme of promotions throughout 2017, to highlight Northern Ireland around the world,” he said.
Hospitality Ulster CEO Colin Neill said the figures underlined the importance of free movement of people after Brexit.
“Overall tourism expenditure rose by 11% on an annual basis, which is good news for our hoteliers, restaurateurs and publicans and indeed the economy as a whole, showing that the hospitality sector is working for the NI economy.
“What is very interesting from these figures is the fact that overnight visits from the Republic of Ireland surged 35% across the 12 month period and for the first quarter of 2017 rose by 13%. This far outstrips the growth in overnight visitors from any other market.
“It is clear that maintaining the free movement of people across the border is essential to the hospitality and tourism sector and for the general economy.
“Post-Brexit this freedom of movement needs to be maintained for our hospitality sector to continue to grow.
“The hospitality sector sustains 60,000 jobs across Northern Ireland and contributes more than £1.1 billion to the economy every year,” he said.
“It is essential we are supported by politicians and decision makers to make sure our industry is protected and helped grow.’’