Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney has said Ireland's participation in the Round the World Ocean Yacht Race is "extremely significant" and will result in a major tourism boost for Galway and the west of Ireland next year.

Speaking in Alicante in Spain where the race is due to start, he said it was an outstanding achievement for Galway to have bid successfully to be the final port in the 39,000-mile race.

Indications are that it will attract more than 600,000 to the city in July 2012, he added.

Mr Coveney said Galway had generated over €50m in tourism revenue as a stopover port in the 2008-2009 race and it looks like this would be exceeded next year.

The minister said that at a time of many economic difficulties and challenges, the race itself highlighted the importance of optimism and courage.

He said it would be extremely important for Ireland to be able to showcase itself to the world over the coming nine months of the race.

The minister sailed on the Chinese Irish entry "Team Sanya" during an in-port leg of the race this afternoon.