South of Spain the hottest spot for Irish sunseekers
The south of Spain is the most popular destination for Irish sunseekers, with Malaga Airport on the Costa de Sol handling the highest number of holidaymakers from this country over the last six years.
An analysis of figures supplied by the Central Statistics Office shows that more than 1.9 million passengers flew to Malaga from Dublin, Cork and Shannon – the country’s three biggest airports – over the period from 2012 to 2017.
Malaga Airport serves not only the tourist city of the same name but also the rest of the Costa del Sol, including well-known resorts such as Torremolinos, Fuengirola and Marbella.
The next most popular sun destinations over the last six years are the beautiful Spanish city of Barcelona and the Portuguese airport of Faro, which is the gateway to dozens of resorts on the Algarve.
But in an indication of the changing tastes of the Irish holidaymaker, Barcelona overtook Malaga in terms of passenger numbers in 2017. Almost 287,000 passed through Dublin Airport alone on their way to the Catalan capital in the 12 months to the end of the November 2017, the latest date for which the CSO has figures. This compares to 278,000 travellers headed to Malaga from Dublin in the same period.
However, the numbers of Irish tourists looking for a sun holiday abroad are dwarfed by the amount of air traffic from Ireland heading to British airports for both business and pleasure. Airports in London occupy the top three slots for traffic out of Dublin and six out of the top 10 destinations are in Britain. The large Irish population in the UK and the popularity of Ireland with British tourists account for a significant proportion of the traffic coming in and out. But the UK airports also act as key hubs for onward travel, boosting their position in the top 10.
Similarly, the prevalence of airports such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris in the list is explained not just by their popularity as destinations but also because they’re where many passengers get connecting flights to the rest of the world.
In the top 10 outbound destinations from Dublin, the data show massive increases for flights to Amsterdam and Birmingham over the last six years. While the median rise was 37%, Amsterdam recorded a whopping 120% while Birmingham had a very healthy 75%.
Obviously, Heathrow leads the way at all three of Dublin, Cork and Shannon by an overwhelming margin. It handled just more than seven million passengers from the three Irish airports combined between 2012 and 2017. This compares with 3.9 million headed to Gatwick, in second place, and 3.8 million going to Stansted, in third. Heathrow’s traffic from Dublin rose by 13% over that period while Gatwick shot up 45% and Stansted by 30%.
Heathrow is the second-busiest airport in the world: after holding the top spot for many years, it was surpassed by Dubai in 2014. To give a sense of scale of its dominance at Irish airports, the CSO figures reveal, for instance, that Heathrow handled more passengers from Dublin in just one month – 69,121 in November 2017 – than well-known airports such as Marseilles, Luxembourg and Lourdes managed in the whole of the six-year period under examination.
While short and medium-haul destinations (defined by pan-European air traffic body Eurocontrol as flights up to 4,000km) dominate the top 10, there’s one clear winner at two of the biggest Irish airports when it comes to long-haul. New York’s JFK heads the list whether you look at Dublin or Shannon, handling more than 2.1m outgoing passengers over the last six years.
From Dublin, the next most common long-haul destinations are Chicago in the US and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Traffic on the Dubai route has grown enormously since direct flights were first added in 2012, with passenger numbers up 135% over six years.
At Shannon, which has traditionally been a transatlantic hub, its top routes include a number to the US besides JFK. Newark, Boston and Philadelphia feature much higher up the rankings than other Irish airports, at fifth, sixth and 14th respectively.
Cork has no direct flights to the US, although some airlines plan to begin service to New York this year. As a result, its most popular long-haul flights are to Lanzarote and Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
In terms of the overall Irish picture, the elephant in the room is the rapid growth of Dublin versus all the other airports but particularly the two other State-owned facilities at Cork and Shannon. Figures sourced from the Irish Aviation Authority show that in 2017 the number of flights in and out of Dublin grew by 4%, from 207,520 in 2016 to 215,829 last year. At the same time, flights fell by 1.6% in Cork, from 20,147 to 19,894 while Shannon numbers rose just 0.9% from 19,149 to 19,296.
The sheer size of Dublin’s numbers over the last six years demonstrate the gulf to its nearest Irish competitors. The capital handled 70m passengers in and 70m out from 2012 to 2017 while Shannon had 4.4m in and 4.4m out and Cork had 6.5m in and 6.6m out.
A spokesman for the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), the semi-state body that manages both Dublin and Cork, said: “A record 29.6 million passengers travelled through Dublin Airport last year, which was a 6% increase on 2016 and the seventh consecutive year of growth. Since 2011, annual passenger numbers at Dublin Airport have increased by 58% from 18.7 million to 29.6 million. The vast bulk of the growth has occurred in the past four years, with passenger traffic increasing by 47% between 2014 and 2017. Since 2011, Dublin Airport has added 15 new airlines.”
The reasons for the gap are myriad but, according to industry experts, the crucial one lies in the rapid expansion and improvement of Ireland’s motorway network over the last 10 years. Previously, it was more convenient and faster to reach regional airports from far-flung parts of the country and to fly to Dublin for a connecting flight. But now cheap, reliable and frequent public transport coupled with shortened driving times have encouraged travellers to choose Dublin first. This has a multiplying effect because the lure of more potential passengers encourages airlines to add more frequent flights to more destinations, which in turn attracts more people.
The DAA spokesman said: “Historically, domestic traffic would have been significant across the Irish airports. In 2007, it was worth almost 1.35 million passengers to Dublin and Cork airports but it is now almost negligible. In 2007, Cork’s domestic traffic was 500,000 passengers per year and Dublin’s was 885,000. Aside from flights to Kerry and Donegal, domestic air travel was replaced by the improved motorway – and in Cork’s case also the improved rail network – and much improved surface transport access to Dublin Airport with regular buses from all over the country, often on a 24-hour basis.
“This summer, Dublin Airport will have flights to 195 destinations in 42 countries operated by a total of 56 airlines. It is now the 11th largest airport within the European Union and the fifth largest airport in Europe for North American connectivity.”
* This report was produced in conjunction with UCD Data Journalism