By Pádraig Hoare
The US is closing in on UK visitors in terms of Cork tourist numbers, industry stakeholders have said — as it was revealed 31,000 have used the first ever transatlantic flights between Cork and the US East Coast in the past year.
Cork Airport said over 31,000 passengers travelled between Cork and Providence in Rhode Island on the Norwegian Air route, which runs three times weekly since July 2017.
Some 60% of the passengers who use the Norwegian route are from the US, the airport added.
Tourism Ireland has said there was an increase of more than 12% in visitors from the US and Canada to the Republic from January to May this year.
Chairman of the Cork branch of the Irish Hotel Federation (IHF), Neil Grant, said the Cork-Providence flights had been a boon to the tourism industry that has seen a sharp drop in visitors from the biggest overseas market, the UK, since the Brexit vote.
“Over the past year, the volume of US visitors to hotels in this region has grown substantially due in no small part to the transatlantic route into Cork Airport.
"The Cork to Providence flight came at the perfect time for Cork and the surrounding region to capitalise on this new-found visibility for Irish tourism,” he said.
Cork Airport managing director Niall MacCarthy said Cork to Boston “opened many new doors for both business and leisure passengers” in both the Republic and the US.
Cork Airport saw passenger growth of 3.5% in the first six months of this year.
Norwegian has been urged by political and business leaders to reconsider its decision to postpone the Cork-Providence service from October, with stakeholders saying Cork Airport was a key ally in ensuring the airline received a licence from the US administration to fly from the Republic.
Meanwhile, Shannon Airport said it saw a 6.6% increase in passenger numbers in the first six months.
Managing director Andrew Murphy said improved infrastructure including the planned Limerick and Cork motorway would be key to further growth.
“The year so far reaffirms the opportunity that there is for growth at Shannon and we see that opportunity opening up even more now with the completion of the motorway right up to Tuam and, in the longer term, we have the M20 being developed to Cork,” he said.