More foreign visitors were welcomed to Northern Ireland last year and more of them stayed for longer than the year before according to official figures.
The data from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) indicates overall visitor numbers for the full year to September 2015 rose to 4.52 million - an increase of 5% on the year to September 2014.
Visitor numbers for the first nine months of 2015 showed an increase of 12,000 visitors, while the full year figures also show an 8% increase in external visitors and highlight that visitors are staying longer with a 4% increase in total nights spent.
Overall visitor numbers grew by around 12,000 (to 3.45 million) in the first nine months of 2015 when compared to the same period in 2014.
“The tourism sector is becoming increasingly significant to the local economy and it is important we maintain the momentum built up over the last few years in promoting Northern Ireland to a global audience as a great place to visit.” said Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell.
“In general the picture shown for tourism performance in the nine months of 2015 is positive with an increase in overall visitor numbers. I am particularly pleased visitor numbers from Great Britain and overseas have shown strong increases with an 11% rises in both cases.”
When visits by NI residents are excluded, the number of external visitors increased by 5% to just under 1.72 million, with associated spend increasing by 5% to £419 million when compared to the same period in 2014.
Overall visitor spend figures are down by 3% to £746 million, but spend by external visitors increased to £535m.
“I note that there has been a slight reduction in visitor expenditure overall but I am very encouraged that spend by external visitors has increased,” added Mr Bell.
“The impact of the weak euro cannot be under estimated particularly in relation to the performance of the Republic of Ireland and Domestic markets.
“This presents a challenge to us all and we must make every effort to promote Northern Ireland as a value for money destination to both external and domestic visitors.
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said the agency was committed to improving on the figures this year.
“We will place a major focus on Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, inviting people who love great food to come and discover the best of local produce and have the chance to experience the spectacular scenery and wonderful coastline which makes Northern Ireland so special.
“Tourism Ireland will highlight The Gobbins Cliff Path around the world, while continuing to place a major focus on other iconic experiences like Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and our unique National Trust properties.
“We will continue to target people of Ulster-Scots descent; and to promote Northern Ireland as a top golf and business tourism destination.”