DUBLIN (Reuters) - Visitors from mainland Europe in the second quarter accounted for more trips to Ireland than Britons for the first time since quarterly records began nearly two decades ago.
The numbers offset a decline in British tourists brought on in part by the weaker pound since the the vote to leave the European Union.
Trips to Ireland grew by 6.6 percent between April and June, official data showed on Wednesday, after two years of double-digit growth ground to a halt in the first quarter with the weak pound keeping visitors from the main market of Britain at home.
The number of tourists from Britain continued to drop at a similar rate in the second quarter, falling 6 percent year-on-year to 950,000 but visitors from the rest of Europe roes by 10 percent to just over 1 million.
When the Central Statistics Office began publishing the data on a quarterly basis in 1999, just 355,000 tourists arrived from mainland Europe over the same period compared with 1 million from neighbouring Britain.
Tourism from the lucrative North American market continued to surge midway through 2017, with the 630,000 visitors in the second quarter representing a 22 percent year-on-year increase from a market where many claim Irish ancestry.
Ireland represents less than 1 percent of the European Union's population but last year attracted around 10 percent of the U.S. visitors to the bloc, according to Tourism Ireland.
"Tourism Ireland has prioritized North America for 2017, as a market which offers a strong return on investment, in terms of holiday visitors and expenditure," the industry body's chief executive Niall Gibbons said in a statement.
"(But) as anticipated, the decline in the value of sterling has made holidays and short breaks more expensive for British visitors; and economic uncertainty is undoubtedly making British travelers more cautious about their discretionary spending."
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)