Northern Ireland could double tourism market if £20m investment is used wisely, claims Ryanair CMO

Kenny Jacobs discusses potential growth of NI tourism as part of wide-ranging interview

The upcoming £20m investment in Northern Ireland has the potential to double the Northern Ireland tourism market – if used correctly. That’s the view of Kenny Jacobs, chief marketing officer of Ryanair, speaking at Routes Europe.

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Jacobs said that the two million people who visit the country every year can be doubled provided “the right investment is made that's not politically motivated”.

He said the money would be better spent removing APD, rather than other initiatives. Furthermore, the marketing spend should be used to attract European tourists, rather than looking further afield.

"Don't be too attracted to the idea of American or Chinese tourists,” he said. “You could probably get 25 European tourists for every American, and probably about 40 for each Chinese tourist. It's all about the numbers - you want as many people coming into the country as possible and we think that's the right model for tourism in any market."

In a wide-ranging speech as part of the Routes Europe Live Content programme, Jacobs addressed a number of other issues including Brexit, how airports should be run, and the airline’s desire to become ‘the Amazon of air travel’.

On Ryanair:

"We're not hung up worrying about any market. We want to be the biggest and the best everywhere. We have about 50 new aircraft each year so it's about getting the right routes to give value to the shareholders."

On Brexit:

"Please put open skies and the free movement of people at the top of the divorce negotiations. It's important that business travel and tourism is not affected."

"It's an emotional divorce at the moment, it's time for people to start making decisions rationally."

"If there is disruption over Brexit, it's a good opportunity for the other 33 markets we serve to take the capacity we might have put into the UK market."

On 'the future Amazon of air travel':

 "The world already knows the Ryanair website and app, and book their flights there. We know the size of our customers' families, where they travel, what sort of holiday they take. So we can then connect the right products such as car hire to that customer."

"We are going to do self-connecting flights on the Ryanair network. We're going to do feeder traffic so customers can book their ongoing non-Ryanair flights via our website."

"We're partnering with other airlines on an individual basis. We want to do this on a low-cost model."

"Digital allows our customers the self-service they want in a low-cost, low-complexity way. We've hired people from Google and Paddy Power - highly digital businesses. Four years ago we didn't know our ass from our elbow and now we have one of the most exciting digital transformation plans in any industry."

"Over 95 percent of people now come direct to our website. No airline should be paying people to get traffic to their site, they need to own their passengers. It's added 20 people to every flight in our network - that's pure profit."

On other airlines:

"We're keeping an eye on what other airlines are doing. Jet2 do a great job with package holidays from Manchester, for example. We're watching their successes and considering similar steps on a low-cost forward-pay model."

On how to run an airport:

"If I was running an airport, I'd have fast and free WIFI get people at airport for longer. I wouldn’t have an app for people to download and use; I don’t think customers would do that." 

"We see a lot of very good airports with very bad security. It doesn't matter how good your coffee is or how fast your WiFi is - if the security process is bad customers will say they hate that airport experience."

"Security at German airports is the worst of any in Europe; they should work with federal states to be a less intrusive procedure."

"Look at what Asian airports are doing, not American airports."

On Ryanair's new charter service in Poland:

"We think it's a market that needs more choice and we're happy to offer that. We see a very real Polish middle class emerging and we know the market - we're number one there. Consumers will have full protection and we're going to offer a wider connection window than other airlines."

On Barcelona:

"They should be developing the market for wider Catalunya. They should keep Catalunya tourism growing and not just focus on the number of tourists in Barcelona."