Routes Europe bound for ‘outward looking’ Belfast in 2017

A growing tourism industry and increased business investment make Northern Ireland’s capital city of Belfast an exciting destination for Routes Europe 2017.

Europe’s largest air service development forum will head to Belfast in April 2017 where it will be hosted by Invest Northern Ireland and Visit Belfast. Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport will also support the event.

Natasha Haggart, group marketing manager – aviation portfolio, UBM EMEA, explains why the decision was taken to bring Routes Europe to Belfast: “There’s never been a better time to invest in Northern Ireland. There is untapped potential in the market that will appeal to the airlines, and I am confident that Routes Europe will have a long-term impact on its economy.”

Northern Ireland’s kudos as a tourist destination is on the rise. More than 15 million visits were made to the country’s attractions in 2014, with the top destinations being the Giant’s Causeway, Titanic Belfast, the Ulster Museum and Derry-Londonderry’s city walls.

The HBO TV series Game of Thrones has helped to boost tourism by bringing some of the country’s most stunning locations to the attention of a world-wide audience of millions. Partially filmed in Northern Ireland, Game of Thrones has acted as a catalyst for coach tours and sight-seeing trips for international fans of the programme.

Traffic is meanwhile growing at Belfast’s airports with more than seven million passengers in 2015. Belfast International’s passengers increased by 9% to almost 4.4 million, while Belfast City’s passenger numbers increased by over 5% to 2.7 million.

Investment in Northern Ireland increased considerably during the last decade. Belfast-based projects include the £1 billion Titanic Quarter (the largest waterfront development in Europe) and the newly expanded Waterfront conference and exhibition centre.

Northern Ireland’s reputation as a great business location has attracted investors from around the world such as Citi, Seagate, the Allstate Corp, Allen & Overy and Baker & McKenzie. In 2014 fDi Magazine (part of the Financial Times) judged Belfast to be the world’s top “business-friendly” city in the small to medium category, and in 2016 the magazine awarded the city its business friendliness accolade for Europe.

The Northern Ireland Executive has targeted tourism as a growth industry that will deliver £1 billion a year to the economy by 2020, and new air services will help to achieve this aim.

Jonathan Bell, Northern Ireland’s enterprise, trade and investment minister, says: “I believe Northern Ireland would benefit economically from greater connectivity to a range of un-served short haul destinations within Europe, as well as greater long-haul connectivity to Canada and the Middle East.”

The CEO of Belfast City Council, Suzanne Wylie, is excited at the prospect of welcoming the aviation industry to Belfast. She says: “I am delighted that Routes Europe will be hosted at our new Waterfront conference and exhibition centre. It is symbolic of the new Belfast and epitomises the city and its positive attributes – modern, outward looking, inviting and most of all, full of energy.

“Belfast is a city transforming before our eyes, on the verge of capitalising on its enormous investment and tourism potential. We are ready with a warm welcome for Routes Europe, we trust the delegates will be ready for us,” she adds.

Neil Mulligan, Routes’ senior future host manager, adds: “Routes Europe 2017 sees our first-ever event in Northern Ireland, as we go to Belfast in April. The timing is perfect for this event with all of the investment opportunities, not only within the city but within the country of Northern Ireland. We were very impressed with their bid, and we look forward to soaking up the famous Irish hospitality.”

Routes Europe has been bringing together the aviation industry to discuss future air services since 2006. This year’s event in Kraków, Poland, was the most successful to date with 1,200 delegates from 110 airlines, 315 airports and 45 tourism authorities in attendance.


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