Visitors from the Republic of Ireland made a “record-breaking” 591,000 trips to Northern Ireland during 2018, with their spending up 20% to over £108m, according to new figures.
Revenue from tourism last year also inched closer to reaching a government target of £1bn by 2020 – with a new target set of £2bn by 2030.
Northern Ireland’s tourism offering has expanded in recent years to include Titanic Belfast, as well as locations associated with TV show Game of Thrones, which was filmed across the province.
But development agency Tourism NI said growing the sector even further would require the development of more tourist attractions to rival the pull of Titanic Belfast and north coast draws such as the Giant’s Causeway.
The report from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency indicated that visitors in 2018 were spending on average of £2.7m a day.
Tourism generated five million trips from all markets – up 3% – while revenue grew by 5% to £968m.
Trips by visitors from the Republic grew by around 23% to a record 591,000, with holiday trips from the province’s closest neighbours increasing by 7%.
Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said: “The latest tourism performance figures show that our closer-to-home markets are driving growth in visitor expenditure.
“The partnership marketing approach with visitor attractions and accommodation providers that Tourism NI has taken in the Republic of Ireland market, implemented as part of a recent taskforce review, has contributed to those visitors spending significantly more.
“At the same time, we are attracting increasing numbers of visitors from Great Britain and overseas, creating more opportunities for our local industry to grow and invest in the tourism sector.”
He said Tourism NI had a new target of doubling the value of tourism to £2bn by 2030.
“This will require us to have a laser-like focus on key markets and market segments. It will also require further investment in new attractions and experiences,” Mr McGrillen added.
Colin Neill, CEO of Hospitality Ulster, which represents the pub and restaurant industries, said the potential for further growth was “huge” but that more support was needed, including in the reform of licensing laws.