Speaking at yesterday’s Cork Chamber of Commerce October Business Breakfast, Niall Gibbons argued that the region must look at introducing more routes from international destinations in order to attract greater numbers of tourists.
Stating that he is “really excited about the prospect of Norwegian Air coming in”, Mr Gibbons added that Tourism Ireland is “delighted to support” the airline in its bid to introduce flights from Cork to Boston in 2017.
Currently, only 17.5% of tourists to Ireland make Cork a destination, though Mr Gibbons argues that, with the county featuring in both the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East marketing campaigns, this number will rise in the years ahead.
“Cork is at the intersection of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East and provides an amazing opportunity for the region to position itself on the international stage,” he said.
Irish tourism, on the whole, is on an upward trajectory, bolstered by good publicity from big- and small-screen franchises such as Star Wars in Kerry and Game of Thrones in Antrim, and its accessibility from other European countries.
It is also seen as a safe destination following turmoil in North Africa since 2011, and terrorist attacks in France and Belgium in the last 12 months.
Ireland welcomed 4.5m visitors from the UK in 2015, while one in 10 North American tourists to Europe included the island on their itinerary.
Total US visitor numbers are up 15% so far this year.
While it is anticipated that tourism from the UK will fall by about 3% next year, visitors from mainland Europe and long haul locations such as Australia, China, and India are on the rise.
Indeed, the past six years has seen major growth, with visits from mainland Europe rising by 76%.
The number of visitors from Asia and Australia is up 79% and the number of North American tourists has increased by 89%.
Mr Gibbons said that to continue to foster growth, additional air routes to Ireland will be critical.
“What we are finding is that Ireland ranks in the top five or six markets that people intend to visit in the next few years but there is no point being in fifth or six, you really have to be up at one or two in order to convert,” he said.
“That is where the advertising comes into it and a critical component is air access. Over the summer season, there are 50,000 seats every week from North America.
“We believe there are lots more opportunities and our emerging market growth now is coming from the southern states like Texas, Georgia and Florida.
“We would like to see more gateways opening there in the years to come.”