Getting straight to the point: more markets opening up for businesses
For an island nation on the edge of Europe, we're far from isolated - and that's good news for Irish business travellers. Hardly a week goes by without a new route launch at Dublin Airport.
In the past week alone, we've seen two major launches - Icelandair (Reykjavik) and Croatia Airlines (Zagreb) - with next month bringing us Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong) and Hainan Airlines (Beijing). And if you can judge an economy by confidence alone, then the signals are good. Icelandair executives revealed to this column - even before the maiden flight ex Dublin took off - that the six times a week service will go daily year-round, beginning in October.
While the point-to-point travel between Dublin and Iceland's main airport of Keflavik will be mainly leisure-focused, Icelandair offers some interesting onward connections.
It's got a 22-strong route network in North America, with a number of airports not served out of Dublin at present, namely Dallas Fort-Worth, Baltimore, Cleveland, Minneapolis-St Paul, Baltimore, Anchorage and Edmonton.
It's offering a three-class service - economy, premium flex (a premium economy product, with two checked bags up to 70lb each), lounge access and 40" seat pitch. The top level is premium, which adds more ticket-changing flexibility, as well as wifi access for two devices from gate to gate. Most fare types allow for a stopover of up to seven days in Iceland free of charge. Prices should be competitive, given that it's pitching itself against low-cost operator Wow, which also has a business model of connecting Ireland to 14 North American cities. Croatia Airlines is dipping its toes in the Irish market, with its service from Dublin to the capital, Zagreb, initially just twice a week and summer-only. Again, executives said that they're confident about the route, with Zagreb also a hub for other Balkan destinations.
Trade with Croatia is small, Irish Ambassador Olive Hempenstall told the Sunday Independent, and the most recent figures putting goods exports to there at a paltry €3m in January - which is less than for Mali or Senegal, and roughly equivalent to our trade with Peru.
But it's out east where the world is opening up to Irish businesses, with three weeks to the launch of Ireland's first direct flight to Asia.
Again, the signs are positive, when comparing the new service to one launched last week to Copenhagen, a mirror image of Dublin with each boasting just under 30 million passengers a year.
"Copenhagen is seasonal - it's only operating in the summer which indicates it's more about targeting the inbound markets from Asia," said Ian Wilkinson, corporate and leisure sales manager, UK and Ireland. "The key difference with Dublin is that we're committed to a year-round service which is four times a week - Copenhagen is just three - as we see a lot of opportunities in Ireland."
The likes of Enterprise Ireland have been pushing hard to secure this route for Irish business, with Wilkinson adding: "Clearly the links between Ireland and the SWP (south-west Pacific region) are very strong... and it's a fairly good corporate market for us to target too."
So far the stats are showing that many Irish passengers are using Hong Kong as a hub to fly elsewhere in the region. "The volume we would see would be onward connections - with Hong Kong itself we can see traffic but with a direct flight to Asia it will stimulate growth. We've got 28-plus destinations within China which is predicted to be Ireland's fourth-biggest export market - that's a big opportunity."
As with the rival Boeing Dreamliner, Airbus's new aircraft - used by Cathay - are promising to reduce jetlag, which is a key factor given the 12-hour flight time from Dublin to Hong Kong.
"We're using the A350-900 - the cabin is pressurised to a much lower altitude so your sense of well-being and how fresh you'll feel when you arrive is greatly increased," said Wilkinson.
"I wouldn't say it eradicates jetlag but you genuinely feel better after a 12-hour flight."
Connection times are a plus, with a 50-minute minimum transit time if transferring to another Cathay service or one operated by sister airline Cathay Dragon, which services Chinese and Asian cities.
Paul Cruttenden, corporate sales manager, said such tight times are do-able, even in a foreign environment for corporate travellers, adding: "When connection times are quite tight - under an hour - there are Cathay Pacific ground staff waiting for you to off-board to take you to the next flight."
But after years of looking west for long-haul, Dublin's Asian ambitions continue to grow. New CEO Dalton Philips and CFO Ray Gray revealed that 100,000 passengers a year is the minimum requirement for a sustainable route, with the DAA now looking in the medium term to open up links to Delhi in India and Hong Kong's near-neighbour of Shenzhen.
Sunday Indo Business