Get­ting straight to the point: more mar­kets open­ing up for busi­nesses

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Evans

FOR an is­land na­tion on the edge of Europe, we’re far from iso­lated — and that’s good news for Ir­ish busi­ness trav­ellers. Hardly a week goes by with­out a new route launch at Dublin Air­port.

In the past week alone, we’ve seen two ma­jor launches — Ice­landair (Reyk­javik) and Croa­tia Air­lines (Za­greb) — with next month bring­ing us Cathay Pa­cific (Hong Kong) and Hainan Air­lines (Bei­jing). And if you can judge an econ­omy by con­fi­dence alone, then the sig­nals are good. Ice­landair ex­ec­u­tives re­vealed to this col­umn — even be­fore the maiden flight ex Dublin took off — that the six times a week ser­vice will go daily year-round, be­gin­ning in Oc­to­ber.

While the point-to-point travel be­tween Dublin and Ice­land’s main air­port of Ke­flavik will be mainly leisure-fo­cused, Ice­landair of­fers some in­ter­est­ing on­ward con­nec­tions.

It’s got a 22-strong route net­work in North Amer­ica, with a num­ber of air­ports not served out of Dublin at present, namely Dal­las Fort-worth, Bal­ti­more, Cleve­land, Min­neapo­lis-st Paul, Bal­ti­more, An­chor­age and Ed­mon­ton.

It’s of­fer­ing a three-class ser­vice — econ­omy, pre­mium flex (a pre­mium econ­omy prod­uct, with two checked bags up to 70lb each), lounge ac­cess and 40” seat pitch. The top level is pre­mium, which adds more ticket-chang­ing flex­i­bil­ity, as well as wifi ac­cess for two de­vices from gate to gate. Most fare types al­low for a stopover of up to seven days in Ice­land free of charge. Prices should be com­pet­i­tive, given that it’s pitch­ing it­self against low-cost op­er­a­tor Wow, which also has a busi­ness model of con­nect­ing Ire­land to 14 North Amer­i­can cities. Croa­tia Air­lines is dip­ping its toes in the Ir­ish mar­ket, with its ser­vice from Dublin to the cap­i­tal, Za­greb, ini­tially just twice a week and sum­mer-only. Again, ex­ec­u­tives said that they’re con­fi­dent about the route, with Za­greb also a hub for other Balkan des­ti­na­tions.

Trade with Croa­tia is small, Ir­ish Am­bas­sador Olive Hem­pen­stall told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent, and the most re­cent fig­ures putting goods ex­ports to there at a pal­try €3m in Jan­uary — which is less than for Mali or Sene­gal, and roughly equiv­a­lent to our trade with Peru.

But it’s out east where the world is open­ing up to Ir­ish busi­nesses, with three weeks to the launch of Ire­land’s first di­rect flight to Asia.

Again, the signs are pos­i­tive, when com­par­ing the new ser­vice to one launched last week to Copen­hagen, a mir­ror im­age of Dublin with each boast­ing just un­der 30 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year.

“Copen­hagen is sea­sonal — it’s only op­er­at­ing in the sum­mer which in­di­cates it’s more about tar­get­ing the in­bound mar­kets from Asia,” said Ian Wilkin­son, cor­po­rate and leisure sales man­ager, UK and Ire­land. “The key dif­fer­ence with Dublin is that we’re com­mit­ted to a year-round ser­vice which is four times a week — Copen­hagen is just three — as we see a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties in Ire­land.”

The likes of En­ter­prise Ire­land have been push­ing hard to se­cure this route for Ir­ish busi­ness, with Wilkin­son adding: “Clearly the links be­tween Ire­land and the SWP (south-west Pa­cific re­gion) are very strong... and it’s a fairly good cor­po­rate mar­ket for us to tar­get too.”

So far the stats are show­ing that many Ir­ish pas­sen­gers are us­ing Hong Kong as a hub to fly else­where in the re­gion. “The vol­ume we would see would be on­ward con­nec­tions — with Hong Kong it­self we can see traf­fic but with a di­rect flight to Asia it will stim­u­late growth. We’ve got 28-plus des­ti­na­tions within China which is pre­dicted to be Ire­land’s fourth-big­gest ex­port mar­ket — that’s a big op­por­tu­nity.”

As with the ri­val Boe­ing Dream­liner, Air­bus’s new air­craft — used by Cathay — are promis­ing to re­duce jet­lag, which is a key fac­tor given the 12-hour flight time from Dublin to Hong Kong.

“We’re us­ing the A350-900 — the cabin is pres­surised to a much lower al­ti­tude so your sense of well-be­ing and how fresh you’ll feel when you ar­rive is greatly in­creased,” said Wilkin­son.

“I wouldn’t say it erad­i­cates jet­lag but you gen­uinely feel bet­ter af­ter a 12-hour flight.”

Con­nec­tion times are a plus, with a 50-minute min­i­mum tran­sit time if trans­fer­ring to an­other Cathay ser­vice or one op­er­ated by sister air­line Cathay Dragon, which ser­vices Chi­nese and Asian cities.

Paul Crut­ten­den, cor­po­rate sales man­ager, said such tight times are do-able, even in a for­eign en­vi­ron­ment for cor­po­rate trav­ellers, adding: “When con­nec­tion times are quite tight — un­der an hour — there are Cathay Pa­cific ground staff wait­ing for you to off-board to take you to the next flight.”

But af­ter years of look­ing west for long-haul, Dublin’s Asian am­bi­tions con­tinue to grow. New CEO Dal­ton Philips and CFO Ray Gray re­vealed that 100,000 pas­sen­gers a year is the min­i­mum re­quire­ment for a sus­tain­able route, with the DAA now look­ing in the medium term to open up links to Delhi in In­dia and Hong Kong’s near-neigh­bour of Shen­zhen.

DAA CFO Ray Gray and CEO Dal­ton Philips. Photo: Peter Houli­han/ Fen­nell Pho­tog­ra­phy

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