WORLD ROUTES: Tourism Partner Aims to Put Bristol on the Map

The historic maritime city of Bristol in South West England is being represented at World Routes for the first time in Las Vegas, having teamed up with Bristol Airport to help promote increased connectivity for business and leisure visitors to the region.

Destination Bristol, the city’s Destination Management Organisation, has joined the Airport’s route development team to make the case for new services to support inbound tourism.   With Bristol also featuring on the Visit England stand (C24) which promotes regional airports as convenient gateways to the UK, the city is hoping to reap the benefits of this increased profile.

Bristol is an exciting and cosmopolitan city, full of world-class attractions with a year-long programme of theatre, festivals and events celebrating everything from hot air balloons to street art (home of Banksy with several original works around the city), and will be European Green Capital in 2015.  Bristol is also the perfect base from which to explore the South West region, including the nearby World Heritage City of Bath, the Cotswolds and Stonehenge.

“World Routes provides a great opportunity to showcase Bristol as a visitor destination on a global stage,” Kathryn Davis, head of tourism at Destination Bristol told The HUB ahead of World Routes.  “Working in partnership with Bristol Airport, we can demonstrate how inbound tourism can play an important role in generating traffic on new routes.”

According to figures from the UK Civil Aviation Authority, almost one in five passengers using Bristol Airport in 2012 were foreign residents, and the total number of inbound passengers has increased threefold over the last decade.

It has been a great year to date for Bristol Airport and the South West UK airport is investing in facilities following a busy summer.  As the only airport in the UK’s top ten to see growth each year since the end of 2009, Bristol has weathered the global economic downturn better than most.  And, following a record-breaking summer, the Airport - which serves a catchment area of more than 7 million people within a two hour drive time taking in South West England and South Wales – is ready to commence the latest phase of a comprehensive development project.

Work is set to begin on a £6.5 million ‘central walkway’ to enhance the passenger experience and ease departure congestion during peak travel times.  Once completed, the new facility will include four new pre-boarding zones serving up to six departure gates.  The 3,880 square metre structure will connect directly to the departure lounge and also provide improved access to the forward coaching lounge currently used by passengers boarding bmi regional flights.

The central walkway is one of 30 separate components in a development which, over time, will take Bristol’s passenger levels from 6 million to 10 million per annum.  The design of the new facility takes into account the latest generation of twin-engine, wide-body jets, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, with provision made for the addition of an airbridge for passengers boarding potential long-haul flights in future.

Other recent enhancements include a second immigration point, additional security search channels and a new £600,000 business lounge which opened in April ahead of a record-breaking summer for the Airport.  Passenger numbers topped 700,000 in one month for the first time in August on the back of new or additional services to Frankfurt, Munich and Corsica.

Despite this, every year an estimated 6 million people in South West England fly from London airports (based on analysis of UK Civil Aviation Authority figures) – the largest leakage of passengers from one UK region to another.  But geographical proximity to the prosperous South East has a positive side to it, with Bristol boasting the highest GVA per capita of any English city outside London.

“It is a virtuous circle, with a strong regional economy driving demand for flights and the introduction of new routes strengthening existing trade links,” Shaun Browne, Bristol Airport’s aviation director told The HUB after he arrived in Las Vegas for World Routes.  “Comparatively high levels of household income mean an increased propensity to fly, and also a strong market for higher end products, as evidenced by the strong winter ski programme on offer from Bristol.”

“But there are still gaps in our destination map which we would like to see airlines fill.  We have seen bmi regional launch new routes to Germany this year, but we believe there is still a strong business case for more frequent flights to further destinations.  Similarly, Scandinavia is a region which is underserved, but which historic data and analysis of the current market suggests would be successful," he added.

Backing up these bullish words is the impressive scale of investment taking place across the Airport’s catchment area, with EDF’s £15 billion nuclear power station at nearby Hinkley Point the headline grabber.  Major multi-nationals such as Airbus, Agusta Westland and Rolls Royce also have major sites in the region, which is home to significant aerospace, defence, energy and IT clusters.

It is not just business traffic which underpins Bristol’s pitch for new routes.  The offer to inbound tourists is strong, with the World Heritage City of Bath just 18 miles away from the Airport, which is also conveniently located for attractions such as Stonehenge and the Cotswolds.

With passenger volumes forecast to surpass 2008 levels next year, Bristol Airport is clearly on an upward curve.  And with Bristol’s new directly-elected Mayor endorsing the Airport as “integral to the creation of a world-class transport infrastructure” there is clear political support for its ambitious plans.  But Browne is far from complacent about the future.

"We will work as hard as anyone out there to support partner airlines when they take the decision to operate from Bristol.  We know the market and we can bring a tried and tested programme of sales and marketing support to the table to make routes work as hard as possible from day one,” he said.

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