Travel agent ‘shocked’ at fall in traffic at regional airport

THE incoming head of the Irish Travel Agents’ Association says he’s concerned that Cork Airport management aren’t doing enough to attract new business.

Passenger numbers at Cork declined by 15% last year to 2.77 million, compared to a record high of 3.25 million in 2008.

Pat Dawson, who owns Dawson Travel, said yesterday he was shocked at how traffic “was way down” at the airport compared to previous years. “I was the only person at the 40 checkout desks at the airport last Tuesday week when I was preparing to board an Aer Lingus flight to Paris. It was frightening.”

He said that was at 10.10am and there wasn’t an aeroplane anywhere to be seen.

Mr Dawson said the airport board had to get out more into the marketplace and try to attract more airlines to Cork.

His comments came 24 hours after management welcomed announcements by Aer Lingus and Ryanair for increased services this summer to Britain and a number of sun destinations.

However, Mr Dawson – who has been in the travel business for 35 years – said the authorities must fight for every bit of business they can. He said up to five years ago, management regularly engaged with local travel agents on issues of mutual interest.

“The fact is, I don’t know anybody on the current board and I’m a big player down here. We rarely hear from anybody at the airport. Very few people know who is on the board.”

The airport’s figures show London traffic decreased by 5% to 879,000 passengers last year, while British provincial traffic was hit hardest, down by a third to 438,000 passengers. Domestic air traffic to and from Dublin fell by 24% to 336,000 passengers.

Airport marketing manager Kevin Cullinane said there was no denying that the global economic recession hit the aviation market hard last year.

“Nevertheless, since the end of last year, Cork Airport management has been pleased to announce to our travel industry colleagues at various briefings, 16 new route developments with Aer Arann, Aer Lingus, Bmibaby, Ryanair and Wizz Air for 2010.”

Mr Cullinane said in addition to seat capacity increases, new routes have been secured and connectivity restored to key destinations in Britain, in particular.

“My aviation marketing colleagues and I are in ongoing negotiations with existing and potential airlines with a view to matching consumer demand with supply. However, expectations have to be tempered with today’s economic realities when times are radically different to the golden era of the Celtic Tiger,” he said.

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