2016 is set to be marked as the most significant year ever in terms of visitor numbers arriving in Ireland.

Tourism Ireland revealed that an estimated 10.5m visitors will have entered the country by 31 December, which represents an 11% increase on 2015, and bookmarks an incredible year for Irish tourism which included: Donegal being listed on National Geographic's Cool List; Condé Nast naming Ballyfin Demesne as the best hotel in the world; and the Skellig Ring's inclusion as one of Lonely Planet's top destinations for 2017.

The presence of 10.5m visitors to the country has, of course, been of direct benefit financially, with €5.4b of revenue entering the economy.

Tourism Ireland has also targetted further growth in 2017, their target is to increase revenue by 4.5% to €5.7b across both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Significant elements to Tourism Ireland's marketing plan tied in to this success, including netting overseas publicity worth an estimated  €385m and also becoming the fourth most-followed tourism board on Facebook and Twitter, and third on YouTube, all factors in driving up visitor numbers.

Ireland as a secure destination

Speaking to RTE Travel, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, highlighted global issues of security as a key reason in Ireland's growth for 2016. "[Following] security issues [elsewhere]...we are seen as a very secure destination. We...saw our business increase by 11%," said Gibbons.

New flights into Ireland

Air routes into Ireland also expanded in 2016, with Los Angeles, Hartford, Newark, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Nantes, La Rochelle, Madrid, Vancouver, Miami and Doha all served by either new or expanded services into the country.

"Air access capacity also increased by 9% with increase capacity from the US, from Britain, from mainland Europe and from long-haul markets, which meant it was easier to get here," commented Gibbons.

"Air access capacity also increased by 9% with increase capacity from the US, from Britain, from mainland Europe and from long-haul markets, which meant it was easier to get here," commented Gibbons.

Brexit

The impact of the Brexit vote on the Irish economy remains unclear as the situation unfolds slowly ahead of the UK's exit from the EU by the end of March 2019. The lower value of Sterling is anticipated to affect Ireland's influx of British tourists and competitivity is the key word from Tourism Ireland.

"We have to remain very competitive from a British perspective. The British take about 65m trips around the world. The forecast is that this will decline by 2.5% but it's still a watching brief," said Gibbons.

"The British will still travel, but the whole of the Eurozone will be affected by the devaluing of Sterling. In order to ensure we maintain our share of their 65m journeys; of those trips 5m of them are coming to Ireland, so we have a big market share. They stay on average four and a half days, so half the length of time of an American, but it's very important for the Dublin market."

Trad Fest and Women's Rugby World Cup

There is an ongoing rolling calendar of events to spearhead further tourism growth in 2017, including Trad Fest (January) and the Women's Rugby World Cup (August), which are part of an overall tourism masterplan.

"Trad Fest in Dublin plays really well into the German market. St Patrick's Festival continues to be huge in March.

"Another one that continues to be the Bram Stoker Festival at the end of October.

"The Women's Rugby World Cup is also going to be huge, with the final in Belfast, and that is happening at a time when the announcement will be made about who will win the bid to host the men's tournament in 2023."