A total of 6.99 million overseas trips were made to Ireland during 2013, up 7.2% on the 6.52 million trips made in 2012, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office.

The figures show that visitors from abroad spent a total of 51 million nights here last year compared to 48 million the previous year, as the country hosted "The Gathering" tourism initiative.

The CSO said the amount of money generated by overseas travellers here rose by 9.4% to €4.127 billion from €3.771 billion in 2012.

Meanwhile, Irish residents made a total of 6.32 million overseas trips last year, unchanged from the previous year. These trips lasted an average of 8.1 nights, down 2.4% on 2012.

The CSO also said today that the number of overseas trips to Ireland by non-residents rose from 1.438 million in the last quarter of 2012 to 1.580 in the last quarter of 2013.

Bed nights spent here also increased by 3.9% to 10.7 million from 10.3 million.

Total tourism and travel earnings from overseas visitors rose by 3.7% to €836m in the last three months of the year from €806m the same time the previous year. 

Commenting on the CSO figures, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said the growth in tourism numbers was driven by strong increases in visitor numbers from all of our market areas worldwide. 

"We saw the best performances ever in 2013 from North America, Germany, France, Spain and from our long-haul markets - with Australia and New Zealand in particular driving that growth," Mr Gibbons said.

Strong growth has also been recorded in recent months from the British market, he added. 

"As we look to 2014, we have an extensive programme of promotions under way across the world, to keep the momentum going and build on the success of 2013. We are placing a major focus on promoting the Wild Atlantic Way, as well as on major events like Limerick City of Culture and the Grande Partenza of the Giro d’Italia," he said.

Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said the numbers visiting friends and relatives last year indicated that The Gathering played an important role in last year’s success. 

"Although there may have been some concerns that numbers might contract this year after The Gathering, the earliest indications show that we are actually building further on last year’s impressive performance. That’s good news for business, local economies and jobs throughout the country," he stated.