Americans visiting Britain, Ireland with zest

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NEW YORK -- Transatlantic tourism to the British Isles has skyrocketed in the first few months of 2004, with U.S. air arrivals in Great Britain rising by as much as 21% and overall North American tourism to Ireland growing by nearly 23%.

VisitBritain officials said that 764,000 Americans landed in the U.K. from February to April -- compared to just 631,000 in the same period last year -- representing a 21% growth and comprising 12.7% of all arrivals.

For the four months of the year, VistiBritain saw a slightly lower 17% growth from the States, according to its International Passenger Survey. In total, 6 million international visitors traveled to Britain, the highest number of visitors ever recorded in the period.

Rob Franklin, executive vice president at VisitBritain for the Americas, said the figures are evidence that long pent-up demand for a U.K. holiday finally is being released.

What's more, Franklin said that "feedback from trade partners is positive and to be 17% up on last year for the January to April period really sets the stage for a good year."

VisitBritain attributed the rebound to its media and direct-mail "Britain Just Go!" and "Spring Main Campaign" promotions in the U.S.

Meanwhile, things were looking good across the Irish Sea, as well, with U.S. and Canadian arrivals in Ireland rising 22.7%, to 173,000, in the first three months of 2004, compared to the same quarter in 2003, when just 141,000 visited, according to Dublin's Central Statistic Office.

By way of comparison, overall visits from all source markets grew by 8.4% in the same period, while earnings rose 5%.

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 cautioned that "it is too early to make any call for the full year."

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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