Tourism grew by 7% last year with visitors to Ireland spending an additional €300m in a €4.3 billion industry that created over 14,500 new jobs, according to figures released by tourism body Fáilte Ireland today.

In their annual review, Fáilte Ireland claimed that business confidence in the sector has increased with 137,000 people now directly employed in the tourism sector.

This figure moves closer to 200,000 once conferencing and festivals were factored in. 

The company said that a further 6,000 to 8,000 jobs are estimated for creation in 2014.

Fáilte Ireland says that while Ireland is now more competitive from a pricing point of view, fuel and energy costs remained high.

North American tourist arrivals are estimated by Fáilte Ireland to have exceeded one million for the first time since 2007 following growth of 15% in numbers. The UK remains Ireland's single biggest market with visitors from there at 42% of the market last year - up 5%. The rest of the of the EU market grew by 6% to 2.4 million tourists.
Fáilte Ireland's chief executive Shaun Quinn said tourism is playing a "pivotal role in the continuing national recovery" adding that while the 'Gathering' initiative had provided a "bounce"; the industry was anticipating an overall increase in overseas visitors for 2014.

Fáilte Ireland said this is based on the level of advance bookings by tourists for the coming year, which are already ahead of 2013 figures. A reduction in the level of "last minute" bookings has also been seen, with people planning their trips further in advance.

"Tourism is well placed to deliver additional revenue and employment to many areas outside the major metropolitan hubs," Mr Quinn said.

Fáilte Ireland said that Ireland's competitiveness had improved and sectors that had been struggling in recent years - such as B&Bs - were now seeing an increase in business. Restaurants too were feeling more confident - according to the report - citing the 9% VAT rate as crucial to the sector.