Monday 16 September 2019

Business takes off between Europe's Brexit-chasing cities

Benedicte Duval, Air France-KLM’s general manager for the UK and Ireland, says the French airline is testing the waters with Airbus A318s here. Photo: Christophe Leroux Air France
Benedicte Duval, Air France-KLM’s general manager for the UK and Ireland, says the French airline is testing the waters with Airbus A318s here. Photo: Christophe Leroux Air France

Mark Evans

Business is booming between the Brexit job-chasing cities of Dublin, Paris and Amsterdam. Air France-KLM's new head of the UK and Ireland, Benedicte Duval, revealed that the airline's Dublin routes have outperformed those in the UK so far this year.

With load factors (filled seats) of 87.5pc to Amsterdam and 87.2pc to Paris Charles De Gaulle, the airline group is expanding its services here.

From October 29, KLM will be operating five flights a day to Amsterdam, two using mainline Boeing 737 aircraft and three on KLM Cityhopper Embraer 190s.

Air France is switching from full codeshare on smaller CityJet planes to a daily service, two operated by Air France mainline Airbus 318s, one on its Hop subsidiary with Embraer 190s and one with CityJet using an AR8. The airlines will be fighting for market share with Aer Lingus to Paris and with Aer Lingus and Ryanair to Amsterdam.

Both airlines could expand their services further, with Duval saying Air France is "testing the waters" at Dublin, and could put more, and larger, Air France mainline aircraft on the route. "During the past 18 months the curve, following the economic recovery in Ireland, has been up," Duval said.

She conceded that the mix of aircraft on the Dublin-Paris route could be confusing for business passengers wanting consistency of service in the cabin, saying "ideally all the services would be mainline".

While Amsterdam and Dublin are both competing for London City jobs, their airports are also in competition as global hubs. Schiphol is some way ahead of Dublin (68 million passengers to under 30 million), but Aer Lingus has stated its aim is to develop Dublin further as a gateway between Europe and North America.

Air France is also aiming to push Charles De Gaulle as a transcontinental hub for more Irish passengers, along the lines of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Istanbul.

Paris and Amsterdam are mirror images - just 29pc of traffic to Amsterdam is point to point, with 29pc of passengers transferring to medium-haul destinations, and 42pc to long haul.

With Charles De Gaulle, over half (53.5pc) is to Paris only; 38pc is medium haul and a mere 8.5pc long haul. The breakdown reveals where the Irish are doing business and travelling - Moscow, Denmark, Kiev and Luxembourg on the short haul side, and Minneapolis-St Paul, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Shanghai and Beijing long haul.

With Paris, medium haul is provincial France (Marseille, Toulouse, Montpellier) and Moscow, while long haul is similar to Schiphol: Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Beijing, Lagos (Nigeria) and Johannesburg.

Duval concedes that the competition for business passengers on some of its niche routes will heat up, given Aer Lingus's transatlantic ambitions, the arrival of Cathay Pacific on the Dublin-Hong Kong route and reports of Hainan offering Dublin to Beijing in the near future.

"We're never confident," she said. "We have to be competitive as it's always a challenge."

n Organisers of the recent Connect17, Ireland's summit on business tourism, might be blowing their own trumpet a bit, but someone's got to do it.

Corporate travellers are well aware of the scale of conventions abroad (Cologne's colossal Koelnmesse alone hosts 2,000 conferences a year), but it's not a sector that gets that much attention here at home.

Connect17 brought together 200 buyers as well as international speakers, including the Sunday Independent's Gina London) to explore the MICE (meetings incentives, conferences and exhibitions) space, and it's certainly a lucrative one. Even here, business tourism is reckoned to employ about 21,000 people and was worth €715m (up 7pc) last year. The aim now is to create a €1.1bn industry, employing an additional 8,000 people, by 2028.

n Dublin's InterContinental Hotel in Ballsbridge has been named Ireland's best business hotel for the second year running. And while this column can't give a thumbs up or down to the facilities (not a regular visitor), one thing is clear - it's popular among the business community.

A recent visit revealed a lobby filled with the top brass of about-to-be-sold tech company Vox Pro, blue chip accountancy firm figures and a host of airlines executives.

It might be out of the way from the central business district hubs, but it came across as a mini-IFSC in the heart of D4.

Sunday Indo Business

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