The past weekend saw over 100 members of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) attend the body’s annual conference in Jerez, Spain.
Delegates from across the country attended the event, including Cork-based members Paul Dawson of Dawson Travel, Nora Desmond of Premier Travel, Michael Doorley of Shandon Travel, and Rosemary O’Connell and Mary Jones of Lee Travel.
Speaking about Cork Airport, the county’s delegates said it needs to work harder on its public relations to combat the negative attention it receives.
“I think Cork Airport is much maligned. If you’re practical about it, there’s an airport in Shannon, Kerry, Dublin, and Knock. I think the expectations that the Cork public have for services out of Cork are not realistic,” Mr Doorley said.
“Airlines are only going to provide services if they make a profit. When you look at the population around the Cork area, I think the airport is serving it very well at the minute.”
Mr Dawson said that those expecting more from Cork Airport need to support its existing services.
“In order for Cork Airport to work on new routes, Cork and Munster people must support these flights and unfortunately a lot of people these days look to save a few quid and go up to Dublin on the Aircoach, when they should use the Cork service. The only way these Cork routes will work is if people support it,” he said.
“If an airline can see that it can make money somewhere else, it’s not going to land in Cork if that aircraft can make more money going somewhere else.
“The route might be working, but if they can make more money going somewhere else, they’re going to do it.
“Airlines aren’t into social services any more; they’re into the bottom line, every one of them.”
Ms Desmond cited the cancelled Rome route as one she felt had a demand from Cork tourists, and the group suggested the Italian capital as a destination with the potential to support a route from Cork, along with Madrid, Bilbao, and Istanbul.
Regarding new Cork routes, there was a consensus among the group that Norwegian Airs’ recently-announced Cork-Boston service is too ambitious, with the travel agents believing that there will not be enough demand to justify the four flights a week planned for the route.
The ITAA conference was entitled ‘Embracing The Future’, with the event focusing largely on how travel agents adapt to a market where tourists are now booking their own travel and accommodation directly from source online.
Juan Cullen, an ecommerce and digital marketing specialist, said that 80% of flights this year were booked directly by the consumer.
“To survive in this market travel agents need to alter their services and provide special experiences that set them apart from the generic,” Mr Cullen said.
“The future of travel agents is in niche, long-haul and luxury travel — this is where an agent can really use their knowledge to add value for the customer. I think we are seeing a shift from ‘travel agents’ to ‘experience agents’.”