660,000 international tourists visited Ireland in November, down 4% compared to the same month in 2019.

New figures from the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) show that so far this year, visitor numbers are down 18%.

For the first month since the pandemic, the data reveals that European markets were on a par with their performance in 2019, while long-haul markets were marginally up.

"Pre-pandemic tourism was the country's largest indigenous industry, its biggest regional employer, and contributed €2 billion annually to the exchequer and it is vital that the sector returns to sustainable growth," said Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, Chairperson of ITIC.

Heading into 2023, the ITIC said it is concerned that the recovery of the sector will be threatened by soaring inflation, the energy crisis and the impact of Government contracts with tourism accommodation suppliers.

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According to the representative body, 24% of hotel rooms - accounting for about 15,000 of the total of 60,000 - are being used by the Government to house refugees from Ukraine and asylum seekers.

Speaking yesterday at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Eoghan O'Mara Walsh, CEO of ITIC said if this rose to 30%, it would deliver a €1bn hit in lost earnings to the sector next season.