The Irish Hotels Federation says Ireland could have two million US visitors annually within the next seven years, if the Open Skies agreement with the US is ratified later this month.

The European Commission said on Friday it had reached a provisional agreement with the United States over a so-called "open skies" deal to open their transatlantic aviation markets in a bid to boost traffic and jobs.

The IHF says this move would represent an extra €1 billion in revenue to the Irish economy.

However, shares in British Airways fell today after the United States and Europe agreed the pact that could weaken the airline's position on profitable transatlantic flights.

Analysts said British Airways had most to lose from a deal, because it would open up competition on flights from London's Heathrow Airport to the United States.

The lucrative transatlantic route contributes a major slice of BA's profits and increased competition could drive down fares, hitting the airline's revenues.

Currently, direct transatlantic flights from Heathrow are limited to British Airways (BA), Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines and American Airlines.

BA closed down 6.6% at 496-1/2 pence, off a low of 481p, for their lowest finish in three months.

However, delegates at the Federation's 69th Annual Conference in Cavan today welcomed the announcement of the draft agreement between the EU and US that aims to open up their airline markets.

Presenting its annual report today, the IHF says that tourism revenues rose by 11% in 2006, but that an eight year steady erosion in regional tourism continues.

Chief executive John Power says vigilance is required to make sure Ireland does not become purely a city break destination.

There are now 873 hotels in Ireland with over 53,600 bedrooms. And there are 383 guest-houses with over 4,400 rooms, and 57,000 people are employed in the sector.

The IHF also today called on the Government to adhere to the pay terms set out by the National Agreement 'Towards 2016' in determining future increases in the national minimum wage rate.

BA shares were trading down 7% at 494p at noon today.