Profitability in the hotel industry continued to rise in 2018, but at a slower pace than before, according to a new survey from accountancy firm Crowe.

Its 2018 Hotel Survey recorded a 7% rise in profits across the industry - the lowest rate in seven years - as costs increased and uncertainty from issues like Brexit impacted visitor numbers.

"What we're hearing from hoteliers in 2019 is that business is softer this year than what it was last year," said partner Aiden Murphy.

"Hoteliers are worried about three things - cost increases in the industry, the VAT hike from 9% to 13.5% on rooms and food, and the impact of Brexit," he added.

The British market has always been an important one for the tourism sector, however the weakness in sterling since the Brexit vote has posed a challenge for the industry. 

But with the deadline now set for the end of October - and talk of a no-deal scenario growing - there is little sign that the hotel industry here is properly prepared.

"It's probably happened gradually over the last year or two on the basis that sterling has been weakening," Mr Murphy said. "However what we're seeing in the industry is very much a wait-and-see approach, which is concerning."

Some analysts predict a further 10% decline in the value of sterling in a no-deal scenario - with parity with the euro a possibility.

"That could impact UK and Northern Ireland visitors to Irish hotels to be down 15% and therefore we could have 400,000 hotel rooms to replace from other markets," Mr Murphy said.

Sterling's depreciation is also a double-edged sword for the industry here. Not only does it make Ireland less attractive to British visitors, it also makes the British market more competitive in the eyes of mainland Europe and North America.

Tourism Ireland has recently launched a new marketing campaign aimed at growing visitor numbers from the US, however it is likely that the British market will set its sights in a similar direction.

That will make the continued rise in room rates a concern - with the average nightly room rate across the country now 6.3% higher at €118.27.

Dublin remains the most expensive region, with an average price of €145.82, however all regions bar the western seaboard are now costing at least €105 per night, on average.

That may be fuelled at least partially by demand, but it is also due to rising costs for the hotels themselves.

Respondents in Crowe's report claimed a 10% rise in insurance costs during 2018, alongside an 8% rise in utility bills and higher payroll costs.

There also continues to be an imbalance in the market, with Dublin remaining the most popular destination for tourists.

"Dublin is the gateway for tourists coming into Ireland through Dublin Airport," Mr Murphy said. "What we see is that most tourists want to spend at least one or two nights in Dublin and therefore having rooms available in Dublin, and value for money in Dublin, is key in terms of attracting visitors to Ireland."