The owner of Irish Ferries today gave an upbeat assessment of trading conditions this year on the back of an upswing in travel to Ireland, despite a “mixed” 2013.

Irish Continental Group saw revenue rise by 3.4% to €264.7 million with operating profits up by 13.2% to €30 million as passenger numbers edged up by 1.6% to more than 1.56 million.

Chairman John McGuckian said: ”2013 was a successful year for the group with a solid financial and operational performance in a competitive passenger and freight market place.

“The improving economic outlook in Ireland has encouraged us in our recently announced investment in the charter of an additional vessel, the Epsilon, which has been trading since mid December.”

He added: “The improved economic backdrop which we have experienced over the last 12 months looks likely to continue through 2014.

“However, the impact on our business during 2013 has been mixed, with the sea passenger market remaining flat while there has been a return to growth in the freight market.

“We would expect the continued improving outlook to have a positive impact on both strands of our business, passenger and freight, and, with our additional vessel capacity in place, we are well positioned to capitalise on this improved economic environment.”

The company benefited from the start of a recovery in demand from the UK for travel to Ireland “where overall visitor numbers grew slightly following four years of serious decline”.

“Britain continues to provide the largest proportion of passenger traffic for Irish Ferries amongst all of the countries where we source income and the continuation of Ireland’s attractiveness in that market is critical to our future growth,” added McGuckian.

Passengers were up by 0.3% and car volumes were down by 4.2% in the first half of 2013.

Growth in passenger numbers was 2.6% while cars carried were up by 1.6% in the seasonally more significant second half of the year, according to the company.

“During 2013 sterling was weaker than in the previous year which provided a headwind in our passenger segment,” said McGuckian.