Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director, Cork Airport, interviewed by Ross Falconer.
The Cork Airport team works hard to promote the South of Ireland region, and the airport’s status as the principal gateway to both the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East – two of the country’s core tourist propositions.
It collaborates closely with key tourism stakeholders, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, to ensure strategies are aligned to help attract inbound visitors and create opportunities for Cork’s airline partners. “It is at the heart of what we do,” explains Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director, Cork Airport. “We have cemented our position as the busiest and best connected international airport in the country after the capital Dublin, and we intend to keep building on this. Investment in infrastructure and a focus on world-class customer service are also key.”
The figures certainly suggest the strategy is working. Cork Airport now offers over 50 routes, seven of them new for 2016, and it has experienced 8% passenger growth so far this year. MacCarthy expects that pace of growth to continue and the forecast is for 2.24 million passengers in 2016, compared with 2.07 million last year.
€450,000 was recently invested in an additional air bridge to meet the demands of passenger growth and anticipated direct transatlantic services.
“A significant area of work for us in the past year has been working to secure direct transatlantic flights – subject to the US permit decision for Norwegian Air International,” MacCarthy says. “We have received great support from key regional and national stakeholders to help secure these flights, including the Cork Chamber of Commerce, local, national and European public representatives, as well as the Irish Government and peer airports in Europe. It has been a really exciting time for Cork Airport.”
The US Foreign Carrier Permit for Norwegian Air International would open up transatlantic services for the first time from Cork, with a Boston route (with Barcelona feeder) scheduled for 2016, and a New York route scheduled for 2017.
The Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East provide significant inbound tourism potential, and MacCarthy identifies several desired new routes, including Rome, the reintroduction of Lisbon and Nice, more access to Germany to complement the existing Munich and Düsseldorf services, more Poland and Baltics, and a route into Canada. “In terms of outbound potential, we are strongly marketing for summer routes to Prague and Budapest, and other attractive outbound city break options,” he adds.
Of course, Cork is also a key European business destination, with a concentration of IT, pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical companies, including Apple, EMC, Pfizer and Novartis. “There are a number of routes that are important to support these companies in doing business throughout Europe and further afield, so we work in partnership to prove demand and seek airlines with the fleet capable of operating such routes to enhance air connectivity to and from our region,” MacCarthy explains.
Progressive marketing and digital communications
Cork Airport offers a number of incentive schemes, as well as marketing support from itself and cooperative marketing funding from Tourism Ireland. Approved new routes are free of airport charges in year 1, with a sliding scale – for year-round routes – up to €8.60 per passenger in year 5. Meanwhile, there is a three-year discount scheme for seasonal routes.
These have helped Cork Airport secure new routes this year to Düsseldorf with Aer Lingus, Nantes and La Rochelle with CityJet, Madrid with Iberia Express, Cardiff with Flybe, and Southampton and Leeds Bradford with Aer Lingus Regional. “We work closely with the airlines and stakeholders at both ends of these routes to ensure ongoing success through consumer marketing, stakeholder engagement, advertising and PR,” MacCarthy says.
Digital communications are also at the heart of Cork’s progressive marketing strategy. The Cork Airport app includes live flight updates, maps, car park information, and shopping and food & beverage options. It also features the live Cork Airport Twitter and Facebook feeds, which are invaluable digital communications channels; the airport has 18,000 followers on Twitter and almost 30,000 likes on Facebook. Free, unlimited WiFi in the terminal is core to the offer.
“We redesigned our website, which is now optimised for use on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets,” MacCarthy enthuses. “It is more user friendly and uses a clean modern design offering an improved experience for the user.”
Building on the strength of new routes and additional capacity secured this year, Cork Airport is already looking towards 2017 and the addition of further new services and increased frequencies. “We await a decision on the transatlantic routes Norwegian Air International will operate from Cork to Boston and New York presently, which will be the next phase of our development and a historical step in the airport’s history. We are very much open for business and here to talk profitable growth with airline partners,” MacCarthy concludes.
Cork Airport factbox
2015: 2.07 million passengers
2016 passenger traffic growth (year-to-date): 8%
2016 forecast: 2.24 million passengers
Key airline customers:
Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Stobart Air (Aer Lingus Regional), CityJet, Flybe, Iberia Express
Number of routes: 50+ (40 scheduled, 10+ charter)
Top 3 destinations: London, Amsterdam, Malaga