Ireland West Airport Knock, 19 April 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today for the launch of this new service, which will bring visitors from Scotland’s capital directly to the heart of the West of Ireland three days a week. I congratulate the Airport authorities for securing this important additional route and the management at Flybe for the strategic decision it has taken and the commitment and confidence it is showing in this airport and in our tourism industry here in the West of Ireland. This is significant for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it means that four airlines now operate international air services into Knock, with Flybe joining Ryanair, Aer Lingus and bmi baby.
Secondly, it brings to 10 the number of airports serving Knock from Great Britain, with Edinburgh now added to Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, East Midlands, Birmingham, Bristol, Stansted, Luton and Gatwick.
Thirdly, this enhances Flybe’s presence on the island of Ireland, adding Knock to its existing gateways in Derry, Belfast and Dublin. Flybe is Europe’s largest and most successful regional airline, flying to over 215 destinations across Europe. Its strong brand presence in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK will be a valuable asset in encouraging more visitors.
As an island destination, direct and competitive access services are absolutely vital to the future growth of tourism to this region and to the island of Ireland as a whole. This new service will play an important role in helping us to grow visitor numbers to the West of Ireland in 2011 and beyond. That is why the Government has undertaken to abolish the €3 Air Travel Tax – if a deal can be agreed with carriers to re-open closed routes from our source markets and bring more tourists into Ireland. I can tell you that my colleague Minister Varadkar is already talking to the airlines about how they might respond.
This year, I understand that this airport expects to grow passenger numbers by 9% with most of this traffic being generated from Great Britain. Its growth in the past 10 years has continued despite the recession. This has been significantly supported by my Department. As a result of Exchequer capital investment of over €9.5million in the past five years, Knock has been able to proceed with a number of important projects including an extension to the terminal. This investment has also contributed to improved safety and security systems, enhancements to the instrument landing system and a runway upgrade. I can tell you that Minister Varadkar is currently considering issues relating to the Operational Subvention Scheme and the Capital Grant Scheme which have provided funding to the six regional airports, including Knock Airport, and intends to bring proposals to Government shortly.
As you are aware, Great Britain – including Scotland – is the largest and most important market for tourism to Ireland and the fight to restore growth from this market is well underway. Tourism Ireland, the agency which markets the island of Ireland overseas, is rolling out a strong marketing programme which it developed in consultation with the industry here at home and in Britain.
Of course, I can’t help pointing out the attractions of County Mayo and particularly Westport – one of our finest destinations – for the British visitor – whether it is Westport House, our pubs and restaurants, the outdoor activities on Clew Bay and our hills and mountains – not to mention Croagh Patrick. But in fairness, this service will allow visitors to easily come and sample all that the West has to offer. Tourism Ireland is making sure that the West of Ireland is highly visible in Britain this year through advertising on major TV channels,
trade and consumer promotions and online.
A major publicity drive is showcasing the Ireland tourism experience through popular TV programmes like Terry Wogan’s Ireland, as well as on national and regional radio stations and in top travel, business tourism and golfing media.
And, of course, Tourism Ireland is continuing to work closely with Ireland West Airport Knock and the carriers who fly here from our key tourism markets – with Flybe in this instance – to help drive demand for their services and to promote this region. To mark the launch of this new Flybe service, Tourism Ireland is working with Flybe and Ireland West Airport Knock, to promote the West in the Edinburgh catchment area and drive demand for the service by highlighting how easy it is to get here, the great fares available, the value on offer from tourism industry partners here and the wonderful things to do and see. The campaign includes advertising in influential national newspapers like The Scotsman and The Daily Record, on radio stations such as Scotland’s Forth One as well as promotion on popular travel and lifestyle websites.
Publicity also plays a vital role in spreading the good news about holidays in Ireland and in The West. Already this year, the tourism agencies have flown in journalists from newspapers such as the Sunday Telegraph to Knock, to visit Mayo and The West and experience for themselves what makes this region special. This activity will be stepped up throughout the year.
Tourism Ireland is also implementing co-operative marketing campaigns in relevant markets to promote other services into Knock with Aer Lingus, Ryanair and other carriers – highlighting value fares, industry offers, vacation packages and great holiday experiences.
The Government is determined to do everything it can to make 2011 the year when our overseas tourism will return to growth. The overall outlook is cautiously optimistic, with the United States, Canada and Germany showing strong positive sentiment. While people are feeling less confident about their ability to spend in Britain, our extensive marketing campaigns will be greatly helped by new services such as the one we are launching today. In addition, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are already working closely together, as they always do, to maximise the opportunities which the visits of Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama will afford us to showcase Ireland worldwide.
But we all have a part to play, not just the Government and the tourism agencies. Everyone of us must continue to do all we can to make every visit to Ireland as good as it can be. We must all:
- go out of our way to make our visitors feel welcome
- make sure that the experience is of the highest quality
- and make sure that we continue to offer value in terms of cost and service, whether in accommodation, food, drink, activities, attractions or car hire.
No more than anywhere else in the Irish economy, we cannot afford to take any of our overseas customers for granted – or domestic ones for that matter.
Finally, let me again congratulate Ireland West Airport Knock on attracting this new service. I wish Flybe the very best with the Edinburgh route and look forward to you doing even more business here and throughout Ireland – and I wish every visitor from Scotland a Céad Míle Fáilte.