Mid-West Tourism Ball hears plan to entice more visitors is needed

Eugene Phelan, editor

Reporter:

Eugene Phelan, editor

Brian Harrington with Michael Noonan at the Mid-West Tourism Ball

Brian Harrington with Michael Noonan at the Mid-West Tourism Ball

WITH Dublin Airport set to accommodate a staggering 30 million passengers this year, compared to under two million at Shannon, hoteliers in the Limerick region now want the government to look at ways of redressing the imbalance.

Brian Harrington, chairman of the Irish Hotels Federation Shannon branch, warned that owing to the drop in sterling the UK could become a far more attractive location to visitors from EU countries and indeed the much prized domestic market. He was speaking at the Mid-West Tourism Ball, held in the Radisson Blu hotel, which he manages.

There are now over 40 hotels and guesthouses in the Mid-West with 19 hotels in Limerick and its surrounds. Over 17,000 people are employed in the Limerick area in this sector. While they are currently experiencing very high occupancy rates, challenges such as Brexit and any downturn in passenger numbers coming through Shannon, could have a huge effect on the tourism sector here.

Hundreds from the industry attended the event recently including former Finance Minister Michael Noonan and former secretary general of the department of finance John Moran, now a board member of the European Investment Bank.

The key message that Mr Harrington delivered was that Shannon Airport’s growth will halt without necessary government intervention and the support of the hotel industry and people of the Mid-West.

“In 2017, it is estimated that Shannon Airport will have 1.8 million passengers, Cork Airport will have 2.3 million passengers. By contrast, Dublin Airport may reach the staggering figure of 30 million passengers. Let me put it another way, of the total airport arrivals into the country, Dublin Airport may now have 86/87% while Shannon and Cork combined may have a paltry 11%,” he explained.

Mr Harrington said the opportunity for local hoteliers lies in the projected growth in visitor numbers which are predicted in the coming years.

“We want a greater share of that growth in the regional airports – our visitors too would seem to want the same; as surveys indicate that close to 70% of visitors from US, UK and mainland Europe choose to visit the regions outside of Dublin.”

“So, what can be done? Well, a key objective of the Government’s National Development Plan is to encourage growth in the regions – well two airports in the regions between them have a capacity for a further 4.5 million passengers – imagine the impact that would have on our regional tourism sector and our attractiveness for foreign direct investment. As the kids would say – ‘It’s a no brainer’.

"This regrettably is unlikely to happen though unless there is a change in the current situation which greatly limits both Cork and Shannon’s ability to attract and maintain routes – particularly strategic routes – and while we appreciate that there is a financial consideration for airline companies to fly into regional airports we would hope our government may be able to assist in that regard.”

In a wide ranging address which looked at numerous aspects of the tourism industry, John Moran warned that it was important that hoteliers managed costs and did not lose the run of themselves with occupancy rates about 90 per cent.

Referring to hotel room costs in certain establishments in Dublin now at €500 a night, he emphasised the importance of keeping costs reasonable here and not following that expensive path.