Axing US flights ‘will cost tourism €200m’

TOURISM spend will take as much as a €200 million hit following a decision by Aer Lingus to axe routes to America from Shannon and Dublin.

The decision by the airline to cut the number of seats on long-haul routes by 25% this winter will mean 250,000 less visitors to Ireland, according to airline analyst Joe Gill.

Tourism Ireland said latest figures available show the average spend per US visitor here is €800, meaning €200m less could be spent in Ireland this winter.

Chief executive of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation Eamonn McKeon, said the impact of the cuts will be severe on Shannon and the west of Ireland.

“The loss of any service means fewer North American visitors are going to be arriving in Shannon to visit Galway, Sligo, even down as far as west Cork,” he said.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) said it is “highly concerned” at the potential impact on Irish tourism as a result of the Aer Lingus decision, which follows on Delta Airlines’s announcement to cut its Shannon/

New York service.

IHF president Matthew Ryan said: “We need the Government and its tourism bodies to now place a priority on activities that can create a positive road map for Shannon Airport and the Irish tourism industry.”

Aer Lingus was told cutting the New York schedule will devastate jobs in the wider western regions.

Former University of Limerick president and economic commentator, Dr Ed Walsh, said an Aer Lingus pullout will present a “very bleak scenario” for US firms already here as they would not have connectivity with their headquarters.

“The removal of connectivity between Shannon and the US will do serious damage to our wealth-generating capacity. It could hardly be more serious,” he said.

Tourism Ireland said Aer Lingus’s decision was “regrettable” but it will do everything it can to work with the airline to help maintain all other existing services and routes into Ireland.

Meanwhile, employers group IBEC called for the Government’s air travel tax to be “immediately re-examined”, saying it is having a negative effect on the airline and tourism industries.

IBEC transport executive Paul Sweetman said: “With passenger numbers falling and the tourism sector being hit hard, it is questionable whether the air travel tax is bringing any net benefit to the exchequer. The Department of Finance should undertake a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the tax, in light of the dramatic changes in domestic and global economies.”

Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair called for the tax to be scrapped last week. However, the Department of Finance said it has tried to be “as fair as possible in looking at areas for additional tax revenues” in the context of the recession.

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