The total number of tourists arriving into Ireland in February remained 41% down on the same month in 2019, the last full year of normal trading before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Data collated by the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) also shows that hotel occupancy last month was just 57% of that recorded in February three years ago.

Arrivals from the North America were down 48% at 44,000 compared to February of 2019, while the numbers coming from Great Britain were down 40% at 152,000.

The volume of tourists coming in from the rest of the world was down 52% at 18,000 while arrivals from continental Europe were 35% below February 2019 levels.

Dublin, Cork and Shannon airport arrivals were all down around a third compared to the same month three years ago according to the data, while the numbers coming in on ferries were 40% lower.

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Employment in the sector was estimated to be at around 242,500, less than the 268,500 employed in it in February 2019.

The metrics are concerning ahead of the start of what the tourism sector hopes will be a busy summer season that will unwind much of the damage inflicted by the pandemic.

They were compiled by ITIC in association with AIB as part of the first of what is to become a monthly Irish Tourism Dashboard tracking the industry's recovery.

It uses carrier and port data to extrapolate inbound visitor numbers by market based on past performance.

"Overall, in 2022 we are hoping for a 60% recovery in inbound tourism numbers compared to 2019 which would be no mean feat considering the mauling that the industry has faced in the last 2 years," said ITIC chief executive, Eoghan O'Mara Walsh.

However, he warned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation and labour shortages could stall the sector’s recovery.

Mr O'Mara Walsh said the tourism industry will have to play an important role in providing accommodation and employment opportunities to refugees. "There are nearly 5,000 refugees already staying in hotels and this will increase. Hotels will be part of the solution in the immediate term but I think it's important to state that it's not a long term solution. I think the State needs to be creative and develop a long term solution."

According to Fáilte Ireland, there are 40,000 vacancies within tourism at the moment. "We lost a lot of employees during the pandemic because, of course, work was so unstable.

"Now with Ireland at full employment, it's going to be difficult to fill those vacancies so we are going to need EU residents and indeed non-EU residents to fill the vacancies, and I think Government has an important role to play in that regard in terms of fast-tracking visas and permits."

Prior to the pandemic, tourism was worth €9.2 billion to the Irish economy annually and employed 265,000 people.

9.7m international visitors came to Ireland that year.

"Government supports have been crucial in supporting the sector remain open over the last two years, and despite the challenges the data shows, AIB is optimistic that tourism will rebound in 2022," said Mary Mackin, Hospitality Sector Strategist for AIB.

"The tourism and hospitality industry is fundamentally important to the Irish economy - employment, regional economic balance, and exchequer returns are dependent on a thriving sector."