Cheap air fares to continue, tourism conference told


CHEAP AIR fares will continue next year as most airlines face a worse year than the current one, aviation analyst Chris Tarry told Fáilte Ireland’s national tourism conference in Dublin yesterday.

He said air traffic was forecast to fall by 6.9 per cent this year and there was still far too much capacity in a weak market.

Mr Tarry said the area of opportunity for low-cost carriers appeared to be taking customers from other airlines, rather than getting new markets.

He predicted the continuation of “a vicious squeeze” in the near term, with revenue still falling, fuel prices rising, too much capacity and no prospect of fare rises. “The traffic upturn – in reality a recovery – is likely to start with too much capacity, making adequate returns impossible,” he said.

Mr Tarry said corporate travel budgets were likely to remain under pressure next year and a review of aircraft orders was inevitable.“In the near term, perhaps all that matters for airlines is to conserve, secure and maximise cash.”

Dan O’Brien of the Economist Intelligence Unit said our main tourism markets of the US and UK continued to be troubled. However, the economy was bouncing back in Germany and France was showing high growth potential for foreign trips.

The conference also heard that Ireland should find a niche in being a refuge for the recession-fatigued. Ann Mack, director of trendspotting with the JWT advertising agency in New York said people’s anxiety levels were high and anxious people did not relax when they went away, with many turning into aggravated travellers.

“This requires a new level of customer service. Here’s where you can play to your strengths.

“Friendliness and warmth play especially well with the comfort-seeking traveller. It’s also a good time to increase repeat visits by reinforcing the comfort that people find in the familiar.”

Dr Ian Yeoman, professor of tourism futures at Victoria University, New Zealand, also highlighted the changing needs of tourists. In the past, wealthy tourists liked to sample a lot of things in multiple destinations. “When a consumer has less money, the identity becomes a lot more simple, a lot more authentic; very much back to basics in terms of values, so family becomes more important.”

He said Ireland had to decide what it wanted to be and present that idea to tourists, similar to the way New Zealand had successfully branded itself as “100 per cent pure”.

The way people booked holidays was changing dramatically, he said, with 30 per cent of hotel bookings in Tokyo now made on the day of arrival.

Tokyo and Singapore were now using technology that allowed people to point a mobile phone at a hotel and get the hotel rates, reviews and maps.

The importance of retaining our Irishness was stressed by Fáilte Ireland chairman Redmond O’Donoghue.

He said it was particularly important that the concept was re- examined from time to time to make sure it hadn’t diminished or faded.

Fáilte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn said this had been a very challenging year, but interest in Ireland from abroad was as strong as ever “and there are definitely signs of those elusive green shoots, particularly in North America”.