Flights could be a ‘game-changer' for West Cork's tourist industry

March 8th, 2017 5:40 PM

By Southern Star Team

Norwegian Air International chief Bjorn Kjos: up to 80% of incoming passengers could be American tourists.

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Tourism Ireland is spending an extra €1m in the US, with a 20% hike in transatlantic tourists expected this year, reports Siobhán Cronin

Tourism Ireland is spending an extra €1m in the US, with a 20% hike in transatlantic tourists expected this year, reports Siobhán Cronin

NORWEGIAN’S announcement of flights to the US from Cork wasn’t just a ‘game-changer’ for the airport, it was a game-changer for the entire West Cork region.

Or, at least if tourism interests can capitalise on it, then it should be.

The flights, three times a week, to Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, are not quite to ‘Boston’ – but a train journey from the nearby station will get you to downtown Boston in well under two hours.

The other great advantage of flying to Green rather than Boston is the relatively short queues at immigration. As Cork doesn’t have the advantage of immigration pre-clearance that Shannon and Dublin have, there were fears that flights to the US would never get off the ground in Cork.

However, as Norwegian founder and ceo Bjorn Kjos pointed out in Cork last week, a smaller airport means quicker access to the US.

‘You can be on your second G&T before those flying into the bigger airports are in town,’ he joked. ‘The airports we choose are in many ways, very like Cork.’

Cork Airport has long been a favourite of many travellers for that very reason – from the car park to the security, to passport control, it is a much more efficient and less stressful experience than flying from either Dublin or Shannon.

You can walk from your car to the terminal in about five minutes, and there are rarely queues longer than ten or fifteen minutes at any internal desk.

Of course, these new flights to Providence – and the ones promised to the New York area next year – will no doubt increase pressure on Cork, but there is still a huge amount of footfall capacity at the new terminal and the new Express Red carpark, in front of the old terminal building, has added further parking capacity, too.

Now that the ‘heavy lifting’ work has been done by Cork Airport’s busy management team of Niall MacCarthy, Kevin Cullinane and others, what remains to be seen, is how the public capitalise on it.

Between businesses and tourism interests, there is huge potential for expansion on our doorstep.

‘I would encourage Cork people to use this service,’ said Minister Simon Coveney, speaking to The Southern Star after the announcement. ‘If you want it to be a success, then you have to choose to use it,’ he said.

Referring to his beloved West Cork – where Minister Coveney spends a great deal of his summer holidays – he said these new flights ‘offer huge potential’ to the region. ‘I think this is huge. Not just because of the numbers of people, but because of where they are coming from.’

American tourists are a great boost to any area, he noted: ‘Americans tend to spend more, stay around for longer and they could bring a really significant [econonic]  injection to Cork city, West Cork and East Cork.’

He said the announcement took time as it was a ‘very political’ decision and a lot of lobbying was undertaken in the US before the flights got across the final line.

‘Sometimes politics gets in the way of good business decisions,’ he said.

And this was a ‘unified effort’ to find airline partners on the Cork to US route and a collaboration of partnerships ‘three years in the making’.

Minister Coveney earlier remarked that, while many people may not realise it, Cork is the most attractive place in Ireland for foreign direct investment, per head of population. ‘There is more foreign investment here, per capita, than anywhere, including Dublin,’ he said. ‘And those businesses are demanding more access from Cork to the US.’

He thanked everyone who had helped make it happen, including Cork Chamber, that had sent a delegation to the US to lobby for the flights and the various visitors who made it to the White House ‘on two occasions’ , including Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

‘After 20 years of talking about this, we now have it,’ he said. And the Minister added that there are also ‘well over 100,000 jobs’ in the US in Irish companies ‘and they need connectivity to home’.

‘Can I sincerely thank – on behalf of the Irish government – Bjorn Kjos for his appetite in getting this working,’ said the Minister.

He said the flights to Providence – over six-and-a-half hours – would be on very comfortable aircraft and would be going to an area with a high density of people with Irish connections. 

‘So Providence is a great place to start these flights to, and New York will follow soon as well.’

He also complimented Cork Airport on their ‘excellent job’ in the face of ‘pressure and fierce criticism’ at times.

‘Nobody can question this team or their leadership now, and there will be great benefits to this region,’ he concluded.

Thanking the Housing Minister for being in Cork for the announcement, Cork Airport’s head of communications, Kevin Cullinane, said he realised the Minister had to rush back to the Dáil to take Leader’s Questions  – ‘and not for the last time, we hope!’ – referring to the Minister’s likely bid for party leadership.

Mr Cullinane then showed a very impressive promotional video of Cork – featuring Cork band The Frank & Walters’ hit After All, and produced by Mike Hannon Media, featuring drone photography of West Cork, and city landmarks, which was a massive hit with the audience.

Speaking to The Southern Star after the launch, Mark Henry, central marketing director, Tourism Ireland, said he was in talks with Norwegian’s marketing department to create a plan for marketing the Cork region, as a result of the new routes.

‘This summer we are expecting the numbers of transatlantic visitors to Ireland to grow by 20% and this is a big opportunity for us, ‘ he said.

He pointed out that Tourism Ireland was spending an extra €1m in US marketing as a result, and have launched a major TV campaign there to attract visitors to Ireland.

Although he didn’t mention any specific plans to market West Cork to the US audience, he did say that they would be promoting any ‘dedicated activities in the catchment area’ which might appeal to visitors from the Boston area.

‘From July we will have a campaign with the Norwegian marketing team,’ he promised.

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