Management among some of Waterford’s most prominent employers believe the runway extension and commercial re-opening of Waterford Airport is of equal if not greater consequence than the North Quays/Michael Street project. Speaking to The Munster Express, Waterford Chamber Chief Executive Gerald Hurley said the primacy of the Airport had been impressed upon him during discussions he’d held with a range of city-based company bosses.
“I spent a good deal of the summer visiting some of the larger employers when it came to establishing their top priorities and what role they felt Waterford Chamber could play in accelerating such progress, and I was actually amazed that three of the largest employers in Waterford identified the Airport as their number one priority – not the North Quays, not the Hospital, not the N24,” he said.
“Senior management of their parent companies coming from other parts of the world might have three days allocated for a trip to Ireland: they don’t want to spend a day travelling, they want to maximise their time in Waterford and they could do that if the runway extension, and in turn, jet connectivity, were established here. And of course, the tourism boost would be absolutely enormous.”
The redevelopment of the Airport is a “no brainer” according to Rob Cass of Real Estate Development Ireland Ltd, the company driving the North Quays/Michael Street revamp. “It would help to address the €500 million tourism (spending) gap separating Waterford and Galway currently, and with the North Quay project driving ahead, the Airport would clearly represent a complementary, co-related development, all of which will sustain and deepen the economic recovery of the city and region between now and 2030.”
Gerald Hurley also made an interesting observation about the nature of visitor transit once people disembark from an aircraft at Ireland’s two main airports. “Speaking to one of the (Waterford) airport investors, and he has an experience of this and it’s what attracted this particular investor to Waterford is the fact that most people flying into Ireland tend to travel west. They’ll land in Dublin and head for Galway and if they’re landing in Cork they’ll go to West Cork and into Kerry, for example. You don’t hear too many people landing at Cork Airport talking about checking out the sights of East Cork or Waterford so they’re certainly something in this.”
Mr Hurley added: “So for Waterford to actually develop the way that we at Chamber and the various other stakeholders want it to, then getting people flying into Waterford gets them physically here first. It makes our city and region the initial Irish shop window for tourists and provides us with a showcase to illustrate what is best about Waterford and then after they’ve spent some time here, yes, the chances are that they will head west, but we need to fly them in here and get them to spend a night or more in our region. These are visitors we’re not attracting now given the commercial absence of a key piece of infrastructure.”
Rob Cass said that the runway extension would create a new stream of tourists, create an additional demand for bed nights in hotels, guests houses and B&Bs and lead to a fresh marketing campaign for Waterford.
“Just look at what has been achieved with the Greenway in terms of the hospitality industry,” he added. “Imagine what will be possible with an internationally recognised airport facilitating jet aircraft? We need to start believing in the growth, we need to start planning in the belief that we will have a busy and thriving airport in tandem with a buoyant city centre, and we need to keep working together across a range of disciplines to deliver on that vision.”