Routes Europe provides a meeting place for airlines, airports, tourism authorities and government bodies that want to plan new flights and increase existing services.
This year it will be held in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a country which has seen increased investment and a tourism boom stimulate the demand for travel in recent years.
Scheduled air traffic has increased by around 4 percent a year since 2013 – higher than the wider European region. Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport handled 7.8 million passengers last year, and the numbers are forecast to rise during 2017.
Routes Europe 2017: The event in numbers
Low-cost airlines are responsible for much of the growth. Ryanair’s new base at Belfast International Airport has had the biggest impact, introducing flights to Berlin and Milan and a service to London Gatwick that operates four times a day. Thirteen additional routes will be operated during the summer 2017 schedule.
Belfast City Airport’s new routes include Eastern Airways’ regional UK flights and Icelandair’s three-times-a-week service to Reykjavik (starting in June) which will provide easy connections to its network of destinations in the US and Canada.
City of Derry Airport has also secured a new airline to Northern Ireland – bmi regional. The carrier will launch a high-frequency service to London Stansted at the beginning of May.
Northern Ireland is welcoming more visitors every year, creating the scope for further route development. Visits to the country’s attractions reached an all-time high of 17.5 million in 2015, with the most popular sites being the Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast. The numbers will continue to grow as tourism is developed into an industry that delivers £1 billion to the economy by 2020 (a target of the Northern Ireland Executive).
A greater choice of destinations would better serve local people as well as visitors -1.2 million Northern Ireland residents passed through Dublin Airport in 2015. In addition, as many as one million inbound passengers used Dublin as a gateway to Northern Ireland. New routes from North Ireland’s airports would help to meet the demand that already exists in the market.
Mel Chittock, executive director of finance and operations at Invest Northern Ireland said: “Northern Ireland is an up and coming destination with huge aspirations for export, tourism and investment growth.”
John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI added: “Hosting Routes Europe will highlight the significant scope which exists for further route development from Northern Ireland and demonstrate why Northern Ireland is a great place to work, live, visit and do business.”
Steven Small, brand director of Routes said: “Direct and convenient air access is vital for Northern Ireland’s economy and future prosperity. Routes Europe is a brilliant opportunity to show the aviation industry why new services are needed.”
Northern Ireland has a range of partners committed to the success of Routes Europe 2017 in Belfast. Stakeholders include the Department for the Economy and its agencies – Invest NI and Tourism NI – as well as Belfast City Council, Visit Belfast, Tourism Ireland, George Best Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport, City of Derry Airport and the Belfast Waterfront.