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 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 peanuts” I 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?
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 is a Partner of Fuzion who offer Marketing, PR and Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland