Michael Cawley, Cork Airport and “What’s the Point?”

Cork City

It was my first time listening to Cork born Michael Cawley, the Chairman of Failte Ireland and former Ryanair deputy CEO and Commercial Director. He was speaking at a business anniversary breakfast for Paul O’Donovan and Associates, Accountants.

Everyone is a product of what they do and Michael a former accountant and a senior member of the Ryanair team for 17 years is certainly a product of his career.

At first he spoke a lot of sense and he believes that everything starts with great management. He spoke about Dubai “a hole in the ground” and how great management has turned the place into a major travel destination.

He then spoke about the Irish tourism and hospitality sector, which employs 205,000 people. He reckons this could easily rise by another 50,000 but says we must ‘elevate’ how we view the industry and start respecting the work that people do in it.

Cork Airport – hopelessly uncompetitive

He then went on to talk about the €17 landing charges at Cork Airport that he says makes the airport “hopelessly uncompetitive“.

He expanded on this by talking about the Ryanair perspective “The passengers belong to the airline, not to the airports. The airlines will seek to make money, whether that is in Bari or in Cork“.

While this message was delivered with all of the arrogance you would expect from a Ryanair executive it gives you a clear insight into the thinking of airlines that are removing routes from Cork Airport.

However he makes a good argument and suggested that if the airport wants to compete for traffic it must drop the rates, suggesting that the region could even subsidise it because passengers will spend significant money when they visit. We must look at the big picture.

All of this makes perfect sense and those running Cork Airport need to start listening and start to view Cork as an economic gateway to our region instead of a stand alone cost centre. If this requires some write off of the debt then it will be no different to so much other debt that has been written off in Ireland over the last five years.

Michael Cawley, Failte IrelandMichael went on to give some general business advice to those gathered in the room “You must define your competitive advantage to be successful

He explained that in Ryanair’s case “price” was it and this was achieved by relentlessly driving down costs .. airport landing charges is clearly a big part of this and in Cork’s case it is easy to see how we are losing Ryanair routes to Shannon and other locations.

He also spoke about the importance of “innovation” and in his view driving costs down is the ultimate innovation – I don’t agree with this as I detest what Ryanair represent and I hate how they have wrecked the flight experience, which was a ‘treat’ many moons ago, even if it was a lot more expensive.

Bring back the peanutsI say!

Michael joined the panel at the end of this breakfast briefing whereby guests were able to ask questions – I asked the question “What did the panel feel was the unique selling point of Cork?

Michael took this one on and gave the room his very worrying opinion of Cork – We should get over ourselves and realise that we are not as special as we think. All talk of us being a “competitor” in a European context is silly as Ireland is really about Dublin.

..I couldn’t believe I was hearing this

Even worse he reckoned that it was pointless for money to be invested promoting Cork as it was not a proposition worth promoting.

When a Cork born Chairman of Failte Ireland holds this view it is very concerning – who is going to subsidise Cork Airport’s costs/landing charges (as he suggested) if no one believes it is a region worth investing in?

Michael …

I 100% disagree with you and as much as I respect your role and your ‘cost squeezing’ experience I think you and your colleagues in Dublin are misguided.

Cork is a very special place for both tourism and business as we witnessed in our research on the Cork Brand Marketing project and a few others have noticed too ..

Lonely Planet were the first to start talking about our ‘friendly city’ and the Huffington Post included Cork in a list of “Overlooked European Cities you must visit in a lifetime

Please take a fresh look at the place that you were originally from and ask the question..why are we so overlooked?

All of us in Cork, our business and tourism groups, our stakeholders and politicians need to start making a lot of noise if we want something in change.

As for Michael…thanks for the helpful insight

Greg Canty 

Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion who offer Marketing, PR and Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland




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21 Responses to “Michael Cawley, Cork Airport and “What’s the Point?””

  1. Damien Browne Says:

    Good post Greg and I agree Cork is a great destination and has a great product offering but I think Cawley has his heart in the right place, sometimes brutal honesty is needed. €17 per passenger landing charges are insane. Cork airport should be run as a private company and needs to strike out on its own now, look at Shannon since it went out on its own. Cork Airport needs to be run like a private company to make money and not as a money tree.
    A bit of of what can we do to enhance and bring more people in, etc etc.

  2. socialbridge Says:

    WOW! Well said, Greg. I may be a Waterford woman but more than appreciate Cork City and lovely county.

  3. Robert Daly Says:

    Michael Cawley is an accountant, but unlike you Greg, is very much a One-Trick Pony, like most accountants. His life’s work has been solely fixated on driving Costs down and doing VERY little creative branding – I doubt he really understands what Marketing is actually about.
    I heard him speak around 10 years ago at a Marketing lunch and his delivery was fixated on costs at Ryanair, with a total inability to relate his presentation to the audience at hand.
    Whoever appointed him to the Fáilte Ireland role has made a HUGE mistake – expecting results solely because he was part of a successful company at Ryanair misunderstands his role there and the needs of his new role in FI.
    Cork must drive-on despite naysayers such as Michael Cawley and we must ask our political representatives to justify and explain why the appointed someone to the number one position in a Tourism organisation that is supposed to promote the whole country, when that person believes the Dublin is Ireland and the rest is not worth the thought.
    Appalling !!!

  4. deshocks Says:

    Reblogged this on deshocks and commented:
    This is a really interesting piece by Greg Canty from Fuzion about Cork Airport and our attitude to Cork…

  5. » Daily Aviation Brief – 06/05/2015 Says:

    […] Read more: https://gregcantyfuzion.com/2015/05/02/michael-cawley-cork-airport-and-whats-the-point/ […]

  6. Jim kennedy Says:

    well said Greg.
    Here is a feature in the Telegraph last week and this is just a sample of what the outside world thinks of Cork
    Jim Kennedy

  7. cazgilbert Says:

    First of all I have a bias and self interest. I have the madeinwestcork stand in The Loop, Cork Airport and am a supplier of West Cork crafts and foods so that people who have visited the region may take mementos made in the region home with them.

    I am really concerned about the misinformation which continues to be expounded about airport charges. These are not a deterrent for airlines choosing Cork. For the last 13 years, there has been no increase in charges. Cork is 8% cheaper than its European peers and 17% cheaper than Dublin.

    Cork airport makes an operating profit on its day-to-day operations. The excessive debt the airport was saddled with I am told “rests on the books of the Dublin Airport Authority, meaning it does not impinge on the day-to-day operations of Cork Airport, which makes an operating profit each year.”

    Joined up positive thinking, marketing Cork airport as the pivotal gateway to the South, the starting off point of the Wild Atlantic Way and the start of Ireland’s Ancient East, is a must. We must stop the naysayers and focus on all the good we have in this region. There is a plethora of wonderful experiences, scenery, food, crafts, wildlife and most of all people who can turn this story around. But good news stories do not make headlines!

  8. Oonagh Says:

    Michael may just have strayed a little from our lovely city but I am sure once he spends a bit more time here he will rediscover the great little city we have. It is becoming more vibrant every day. Cork is magical and will promote itself.

    However I am surprised at the words ‘hate’ and ‘detest’ which are very strong words to describe an airline that allows parents visit children who have emigrated. Personally I would rather pay peanuts to vist my child rather than eat peanuts any day.

    Keep up the good work. Love the banter.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Great feedback Oonagh …I am sure that Michael needs to discover Cork again.

      Hate and detest are strong words but that is how I feel about a brand that up until now has prided itself on treating people poorly over and over … The low care airline I used to call them!


  9. Brigitte Lehmann Says:

    I’ve visited Cork 4 times now…the first time in October 2011 and the last time in June 2015.
    It really hurts me to see how Cork Airport looks more and more deserted…sorry to say, but I’ve got the impression that none of the Corkonians really cares especially the local politicians.
    Greetings from Brussels

  10. Conor Cunneen - IrishmanSpeaks Says:

    Just catching up on this excellent post, Greg.

    YIKES! God help us, if the Chairman of Bord Failte can’t find positive things to say about Cork.

    Sure, it is good to tell it like it is: — airport charges, We should get over ourselves (Not possible for us Cork people!!) etc but it is mind boggling that THE top sales person for Irish tourism has difficulty making positive noises about a fascinating, historic and very friendly city / county. Someone needs to brief this guy a lot better.

    Cha and Miah would turn in their graves!

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