The Monday Interview - Evelyn O'Sullivan: ‘Cork as a hub cannot be understated’

The Monday Interview - Evelyn O'Sullivan: ‘Cork as a hub cannot be understated’
Evelyn O’Sullivan, manager of Cork Convention Bureau, at Elizabeth Fort, where Visit Cork has its office. Picture: Denis Minihane

Many business tourists are beginning to extend their stay by up to four days, which offers a huge opportunity for growth, CBB manager Evelyn O’Sullivan tells Padraig Hoare

Cork tourism chiefs are an ambitious lot, not only in the leisure side of things — business tourism is an industry with huge growth possibilities for the region, according to Evelyn O’Sullivan.

The manager of Cork Convention Bureau (CCB), Evelyn O’Sullivan, wants up to 8% annual growth on the €13m to €14m generated through conference and business tourism in recent years, and is prepared to be aggressive about winning it.

The Mallow native said: “I did arts in UCC and my first job was working in the tourist office on the Grand Parade. I then worked in the conference-organising industry for a number of years in Dublin, as well as working abroad. It still excites me to this day — it is a wonderful sector to work in.

“But we’re all type-A personalities, we’re very competitive in tourism. People may think tourism is all the same, but there are many different strands. You’re competing against cities across Europe to bring conferences to Cork, so you’ve got to hook people into coming here.”

CCB is the business tourism arm, while Pure Cork is the leisure tourism arm, of the overall private- public partnership organisation Visit Cork.

Pure Cork is launching a campaign in association with Tourism Ireland to actively encourage more French tourists to choose Cork as a destination, while CCB is targeting sectors like pharmaceutical, agri-science and marine to spend their money in Cork.

Tourism currently supports almost 22,500 jobs in Cork, with more than 800 tourism businesses, festivals, and events currently listed on the new purecork.ie website.

However, business tourism is also lucrative, with €13.2m generated through conferences and high-end delegates in 2018.

Ms O’Sullivan said many business tourists are now beginning to extend their stay by up to four days, which offers a huge opportunity for growth.

“Conference people notice the small things too — they are no different to most tourists. If half actually come back as leisure tourists, that is a real success. We are exposing them to Cork, which they may never have thought of. It doesn’t take much to hook people in and Cork is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.

“There is a phenomenal range of strength in various sectors across Cork. Teagasc, Tyndall, MaREI, CUMH, UCC, CIT — we’re very strong in many sectors that people don’t realise. We have bids in for three space-related conferences, and we did all three of those in conjunction with Blackrock Castle and CIT,” she said.

Cork will become the second-largest English-speaking city in the EU after Britain leaves. While Brexit will pose enormous challenges to business, it will also bring opportunity, said Mr O’Sullivan.

“If you are a deciding body looking at an application from the likes of Bristol and Cork, and you think things may be up in the air because of Brexit, then Cork may gain an advantage. We also promote Cork for corporate meetings and incentive travel. They are niche areas, but incentive travel is high-end, where staff are rewarded for reaching targets. Cork may not have featured historically for that sort of travel, it was predominantly Dublin or Killarney, but we are seeing more, and interestingly enough from the UK,” she said.

Evelyn O’Sullivan: Cork will become the second-largest English-speaking city in the EU after Britain leaves. Picture: Denis Minihane
Evelyn O’Sullivan: Cork will become the second-largest English-speaking city in the EU after Britain leaves. Picture: Denis Minihane

Delivering the long-mooted events centre for Cork is a must, according to Ms O’Sullivan, as Cork aims to cement itself in the top 100 cities by International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) rankings.

“The event centre would put us in another league, if we are coming into the ICCA rankings top 100. At the moment we have to say no to over 1,000 delegates. It would propel us to attract the larger conferences, trade fairs, and exhibitions and that type of thing. In turn, that brings more access to Cork.”

Cork Airport is also one of the best weapons in tourism’s arsenal, she said. “Sometimes we forget for a city of our size that we have 51 direct routes from Cork Airport. We have two flights a day to Amsterdam and two to Paris, and up to 10 flights to London. Cork as a hub cannot be understated.

“The French market, with Air France and Aer Lingus, is a real opportunity. The French seem to really like the south-west from a tourist point of view. We’d be looking at the high-end groups and tours, so we are hosting in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland’s Meet In Ireland, we are hosting a French familiarisation group at the end of this month.

“They are coming in as part of Fáilte Ireland’s largest in-Ireland event, Meitheal, that has been running for years. This year, there is a focus on a niche like incentive travel. They will come to Cork before going to Dublin for the event. It gives us an opportunity.

“Cork Airport in terms of new route development is focused on Germany and we were delighted to hear that about the German market. We all then need to support the routes, getting business in. We are all stakeholders for our region.

“Even though we have shortcomings, it’s the overall charm and attraction of Cork and Ireland that can win through,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

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