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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Britons flock to 'sexy' Ireland
Coastal scene
Stunning scenery: one of Ireland's many attractions
Ireland is one of the most "sexy" destinations in Europe with a record 3.5 million Britons visiting last year, a report has claimed.

Figures have shown the number of people who made the trip across the Irish Sea in 1999 was up 120,000 on 1998, bringing over a billion Irish punts to the country's economy.

In total, six million tourists visited the Emerald Isle last year - 943,000 from the United States.

The statistics were published by the Irish Republic's Central Statistics Office.

We continue to sell the country, but there is no doubt that it is doing us harm

Jim McDaid

Irish tourism minister Jim McDaid put the influx down to Ireland's reputation as a "happening place".

"According to research, Dublin is now behind Paris and Amsterdam as the third most popular city-hopper destination in Europe," he said.

"Ireland is regarded as a sexy country."

A spokesman for the Irish Ministry of Tourism said the increase in cheap flights to Ireland caused by the intense competition between Aer Lingus and Ryanair had contributed to the rise.

The strength of sterling over the Irish punt was also a major factor.

"The IRA ceasefire has also encouraged many people to visit Ireland who may previously have been put off," he said.

Growing crowds, growing problems

But with tourism on track to take over from agriculture as Ireland's most valuable industry within the next five years, concerns are growing that high numbers of visitors have brought overcrowding and litter problems to some of the favourite holiday spots.

A guide book released last month had described Killarney, the Republic's most famous tourist town, as being "best seen through a rear-view mirror".

The account of the Kerry beauty spot in The Bridgestone 100 Best Places to Stay in Ireland 2000 claimed it had become "an Oirish travesty surrounded by the most impossibly beautiful lakeland".
Pint of guinness
The reputation of Ireland goes beyond Guinness

It also said mass tourism had left the town choked by traffic.

Dr McDaid admitted there were problems.

"We continue to sell the country despite the drawbacks, but there is no doubt that it is doing us harm," he said.

He also expressed concern that the traditional Irish welcome appears to have lost some of its warmth.

A recent survey showed that scenery had taken over from the friendliness of the people as tourists' best memory of their stay.

"The pace of life has now speeded up and people are not taking the time to be as friendly as they once were," said Dr McDaid.

"I would encourage people to always take the trouble to say hello to visitors or point people in the right direction. Everybody in Ireland benefits from tourism."

Tourism in the Republic provides jobs for 135,000 people, an increase of 52,000 since 1990.

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10 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Peace boosts tourism figures
17 Mar 00 | UK
Getting high on craic
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