TOURISM MATTERS: Airlift still a critical issue
I make no apologies in returning to airlift this week. It is one of the most critical factors in our overall tourism success or failure. Take the United States as a classic example. After over a decade of near stagnation in arrival numbers, new partnerships and existing ones are forged and, presto, we magically experience an increase of 25 per cent in American visitors.
While I have mentioned Iceland before, the low cost carrier WOW Air, has now introduced long haul aircraft, in particular the Airbus 330-300 initially for their North American routes, but are more than capable of covering the 3 957 miles from Keflavik to Barbados or roughly eight flying hours.
During the remarkable performance of the Icelandic football team at the recently concluded UEFA Euro2016 competition we were reminded many times that this nation only has a population of around 330 000 people. Yet, WOW Air are on track to carry a staggering 1.6 million passengers this year, or more than double the number carried in 2015.
Using the WOW Air route network it could help open up new visitor markets for us, including Berlin, Vilnius, Warsaw, Dublin, Salzburg, Milan, Rome, Lyon, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
If the airline could partner with other carriers flying into Iceland then there is also the possibility of adding Madrid, Vienna, Halifax, Portland, Riga, Zurich, Nuuk (Greenland), Bergen, Budapest, Antalya (Turkey) and Bremen connecting through Keflavik airport to Barbados.
And, personally, I don’t think we have to even worry about trying to create the maximum seamless connections. For decades, Iceland as a destination has proven to be masters at creating stayover packages, giving the ever more demanding traveller a wonderful option of two entirely distinctive experiences, yet within one holiday duration.
According to Iceland Review Online, the airport processed a record 188 flights and 32 000 passengers on a recent Sunday and a media spokesperson for the airport operator, Isavia, stated “it will be close to seven million passengers by the end of this year”.
The chief executive officer and sole owner of WOW Air, Skuli Mogensen, was recently in Ireland exploring the possibility of a second operating base at Dublin airport to expand their transatlantic routes.
While airports, especially government-operated ones are almost overwhelmingly trying to extract higher and higher passenger fees, Dublin intelligently have capped their charges at Euro 9.87 per person, giving airlines and tour operators an added impetus to introduce new routes.
As the effect of Brexit is still largely unknown and with the United Kingdom (UK), apart from Scotland, levying what still remains the single highest departure tax anywhere in the world, it will be interesting to see how UK legacy carriers like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic respond in respect to moving operating bases.
Virgin’s recent order for 12 new A350-1000 aircraft clearly demonstrates they are in the transatlantic long haul market for many years to come.
Will they be based at Gatwick or Heathrow or maybe to remain competitive with low cost carriers like WOW Air and Norwegian, be forced to move north of the border or relocate to Ireland?
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