The hotel and guesthouse sector here experienced a mixed performance for 2019, against the backdrop of a significant fall in overseas visitor growth. 

New figures from the Irish Hotels Federation show that room occupancy nationally grew marginally during the year, finishing at 73% compared to 72% in 2018. 

However, the wide gap between the occupancy rates in Dublin and the rest of the country persists. 

Dublin continues to perform well with an average occupancy of 82%, down 2%, on the back of an additional 1,300 rooms coming on stream during the year. 

But the average occupancy for hotels in the midlands is 53% - a fall of 3% - while hotels along the Wild Atlantic Way finished the year with an average occupancy level of 65%. 

Growth in overseas visitor numbers stalled in 2019, compared to an increase of 6.5% in 2018.

Tim Fenn, chief executive of the Irish Hotels Federation, said Ireland continues to have a two-tier tourism industry with the regions bearing the brunt of the slowdown.

Mr Finn said today's figures are worrying, given the significant challenges already facing the sector and the vital role that tourism plays in the rural economy, where in many cases it is the only show in town.

Speaking ahead of the Irish Hotels Federation's 82nd Annual Conference in Galway, he noted that Irish tourism supports in excess of 260,000 jobs, 70% of which are outside Dublin. 

Last year it generated over €9.2 billion in revenue - accounting for almost 4% of GNP - and supported the local economies of every town and county. 

"The industry has been warning against complacency as we knew the strong growth of recent years could not be taken for granted. The significant drop in overseas visitor growth last year has borne out these concerns," he added.

Tim Fenn said the country has not regained the ground lost in UK visitor numbers caused by the uncertainty following the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the fall in the value of sterling. 

"The UK market provides the widest geographical and seasonal spread of visitors so tourism businesses in the regions are being hit hardest," he said.

"Many were just beginning to feel the recovery from the recession but now have to look at their investment plans," he added.

Michael Lennon, the President of the Irish Hotels Federation, today called on the legal profession to adopt a more reasonable approach to personal injury cases.

Mr Lennon said the legal profession must shoulder some of the responsibility for the excessive cost of public liability insurance, which is threatening the viability of many businesses including some in the hotel sector.

Speaking at the IHF's annual conference in Galway, Mr Lennon said that the legal costs associated with administering claims are so high they are having a hugely detrimental impact on the proper administration of justice.  

He also said that the legal profession could do more to reduce the number of fraudulent and exaggerated claims coming before the court, which were also contributing to the high cost of insurance.