Stephen Davis is CMO at global travel agency Kiwi.com
A long-haul route to Doncaster Sheffield Airport and an interconnected new railway station has been announced as part of a new build development to lure delegates away from London when they fly to the UK.
The so-called ‘Aerotropolis’ project is predicted to generate £3.2bn for the local economy, with airport passenger numbers expected to increase to 4.7 million per year by 2037.
The much hoped for commercial boost could have a profound impact on for the Mice industry, as well as local tourism in the North of England, with businesses well positioned to flourish from the inbound travel.
The growth of regional airports around the UK is essential for not only the growth of meetings and conference business but also British tourism, by improving the infrastructure.
It would also offer cheaper alternatives to flying into the UK capital. Any regional airport that has international arrivals will benefit hugely from an increase in business. Just think about Americans travelling to Edinburgh, or Chinese visitors to Manchester. The result is millions of additional spend on hospitality, leisure and retail. Furthermore, the growth can only help compliment HS2. That part of the UK will be more accessible to UK residents and visitors.
Whether we’ll see a decentralisation of flights from London still remains to be seen, but they are positive developments. London still remains the key departure and arrival point for the UK, as we are served by five international airports (six if you include Southend) and that provides an enormous amount of choice for the consumer. But for many delegates and UK travellers, London is not that attractive. The thought of getting stuck on the M25 or M4 is starting to put people off. We have seen the growth in LCCs operating out of regional airports with Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds-Bradford, East Midlands, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol and Southampton being most notable.
Additionally, many of the larger US legacy carriers and Middle East carriers operate regional services on a seasonal basis. There are reports that Delta and Virgin Atlantic are launching more UK regional departures this summer. Both Emirates and Qatar Airways operate regional services from Scotland and Manchester. Ultimately, consumer preference has to be matched by airline route and network analysis. If there is sufficient demand for the route, an airline will introduce it. One thing to note, regional flying is often risky for airlines as it is only point-to-point demand and doesn’t have the same passenger flow as London.
At Kiwi.com, we constantly welcome the arrival of new air routes and airline operators flying to new destinations, as it offers the both delegates and tourists more choice and freedom. The hope is that the opening of more routes to regional UK airports will help direct people away from London to experience the amazing cities around the UK we have to offer.
In Doncaster’s case, to really be considered an international hub, this takes a while. You can launch a regional route, but as an airline you don’t want to be the only one playing on the playground. It really needs a combined effort between the airport and airlines to make this a success. For example, American Airlines launched JFK to BHX (Birmingham Airport) a couple of years ago and it lasted one season. It’s going to take time, but gradually, we should see greater numbers of international long-haul flights from regional UK airports at a sustained level, which will help inbound and outbound tourism.
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