Travel Weekly's Ireland E-letter: June 17, 2004 June 17, 2004 Share 1 -- IRISH TRIPS UP: North American arrivals in Ireland jumped 22.7%, to 173,000, in the first three months of this year, compared with the same quarter in 2003, when 141,000 Americans and Canadians visited, according to the Central Statistic Office in Dublin. Visits from all source markets grew by 8.4% in the same period. Meanwhile, North American bed nights in the first quarter rose 16%, to 1.36 million; hotels were the most popular accommodations option, accounting for 33% of bed nights, followed by friends' and relatives' homes (30%); guest houses and bed-and-breakfasts (14%); and rented apartments or homes (13%). A "very satisfied" and "optimistic" Irish tourism minister, John O'Donoghue, said he was "particularly pleased to see the strong visitor numbers from North America," but he cautioned that "it is too early to make any call for the full year." IT'S A DEAL: CIE Tours Int'l touts its six-night, escorted Irish Spirit tour as proof of Ireland's ongoing affordability. The program -- priced from $998, including air from New York (Kennedy), Boston or Baltimore -- is "designed for cost-conscious travelers eager to see the highlights of Ireland in a short time," said CEO Brian Stack. Irish Spirit includes three two-night hotel stays -- at the Mespil Hotel, Dublin; Killarney Towers Hotel; and Corrib Great Southern Hotel, Galway -- a welcome get-together drink; full Irish breakfast daily; and five dinners. Departures run weekly on Saturdays and most Wednesdays through Dec. 11. Land-only is also available, priced from $635. For more on CIE -- which pays agents 10% on land and varying commissions on air -- call (800) CIE-TOUR or visit www.cietours.com.GET CARDED: Dublin Tourism is knocking 10% off any three- or six-day Dublin Pass discount visitor card ordered at www.dublinpass.com before June 30. The pass -- available in one-, two-, three- and six-day durations, priced from about $34.50 for a one-day adult pass to $105 for six days -- entitles bearers to free entry and/or line-jumping at 33 attractions. Dublin Tourism pays 10% to 15%, or negotiated commissions depending on volume sold.IN ADDITION: Advise stranded clients that Dublin Tourism also launched a last-minute accommodations booking engine on its Web site. Roomless customers in a pinch can check same-day availability at tourist-board approved properties across the capital at www.visit-dublin.com/lastminute.ULSTER AIR: Low-cost U.K. airline EasyJet started flights from Belfast, Northern Ireland, to four French and Spanish destinations 10 days earlier than planned, to meet high demand, the airline said. EasyJet introduced direct flights from Belfast Int'l to Paris (Charles de Gaulle) and Nice in France and Malaga, Spain, on Tuesday, followed by service to Alicante, Spain, on Wednesday. The new daily Paris flights may be increased to twice daily, while service to Nice will be five times per week in summer and four times a week in winter. Flight frequency to Spain depends on outbound tourism demand, according to EasyJet. See www.easyjet.com for more information.IN RELATED NEWS: Belfast Int'l recorded its busiest year in 2003-2004, serving 4 million airline passengers in the 12 months ending March 31. That's 10% more than the year before, according to airport authorities. Not satisfied, the same officials said they want to grow annual passenger numbers at the airport to 10 million. For more flight and facility information, visit www.bial.co.uk.