By Pádraig Hoare
Cork Airport is key to a European tourist recruitment drive to bolster visitor numbers in the region, according to business and tourism figures.
Following on from its marketing campaign on the Paris metro station network in recent weeks, Tourism Ireland said it would partner with IAG-owned airline Iberia Express to promote flights to Cork from Madrid, as well as growing Spanish visitors to Cork.
The body said it was framing Cork Airport as an “important gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East” in its Spanish campaign.
Spain is the fifth largest market for Irish tourism, Tourism Ireland said, going from just 90,000 Spanish visitors in 2000 to a record 443,200 in 2017.
The body’s Spain manager, Barbara Wood, said a combination of the Iberia Express partnership and the marketing campaign of Cork Airport in the country could significantly boost tourists to the region.
“The importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights cannot be overstated - they are absolutely critical to achieving growth in in-bound tourism,” she said.
Tourist numbers from France, Spain and Italy to the Republic have risen 30% in the past three years, according to Tourism Ireland.
About 12% of all visitors to the Republic come from France, Spain and Italy, and visitors from all three countries account for almost 13m bed nights, Tourism Ireland said.
Almost two in five French holidaymakers are repeat visitors, staying more than eight nights on average, with almost a third of all French visitors coming between April and June.
Almost 40% of Spanish visitors come during the off-season months of winter, said Tourism Ireland.
Head of leisure and business tourism organisation Visit Cork, Seamus Heaney said Cork Airport’s proximity to both the Wild Atlantic Way, Ancient East, the city centre and the county was a major selling point.
“Anywhere we have direct access, through ferries or Cork Airport, is always a great potential market. We’re working very closely with the likes of Tourism Ireland, Cork Airport and the ferry firms to get as many of those airline and ferry seats filled from the likes of France, Spain and Italy.
“Airlines are absolutely commercial entities and you cannot pull at their heartstrings. There is no sentiment involved and if routes are not used, they will not get onboard. However, if they see those routes being used, they absolutely will. The bottom line is pushing the message to use Cork Airport, and that access throughout Europe is now possible through Cork,” Mr Heaney said.