The implementation of a roadmap and a clear timeline is crucial for the recovery of air travel and Ireland’s connectivity according to Mary Considine, CEO, Shannon Group.
“Restoring regional connectivity and international travel will be pivotal to economic recovery as we come out of the pandemic. We need a clear framework to facilitate the restoration of air connectivity whilst continuing to protect public health. Progress with vaccination programmes across our key markets, improved testing and digital technology such as the European Union’s Digital Green Certificate can help pave the way for travel to reopen in a safe manner.” said Ms. Considine.
Commenting on the publication of Shannon Group’s 2020 annual report, Ms. Considine said: “2021 will undoubtedly be another difficult year for aviation and tourism. Last year, two of Shannon Group’s businesses were severely impacted by the pandemic and this was reflected in the Group’s 2020 annual report with just over 352,000 passengers using Shannon Airport last year, a 79% decrease on 2019, (a 92% reduction in the period April to December 2020 versus 2019). In addition, the Group experienced a collapse in visitors across its portfolio of heritage attractions, which are heavily reliant on international visitors. The sites recorded just over 302,000 visitors in 2020, a reduction of almost 69% on 2019.
“These declines reflect the devastating impact of COVID-19 and were particularly disappointing given the optimism with which we embarked on 2020, forecasting growth for each of our Group businesses. We had secured new routes for the Airport, were continuing our strong property development strategy and anticipating growth at our heritage sites. Unfortunately, instead we found ourselves facing an unprecedented crisis which resulted in the Group recording a loss for the year of €28.2 million compared to a profit in 2019 of €21 .6 million,” said Ms Considine.
“Government support through the provision of capital funding under the Covid-19 Regional State Airports Programme is a welcome contribution towards the overall cost of a range of critical safety and security projects to futureproof the Airport, included in these are security equipment upgrades and airfield rehabilitation works.
“We know the importance of air connectivity in supporting tourism, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and indigenous investment in our region and along the West Coast and the need to restore air services for these sectors is crucial. We appreciate the range of Government supports Shannon Group has received since the onset of the pandemic and we will continue to advocate the benefits of putting in place a multi-year funding arrangement, providing capital and operational funding for State-owned regional airports, support packages for airlines for route development, along with an increase in route marketing funds available to Tourism Ireland which will be critical to the economic recovery of the regions,” said Ms Considine.
Shannon Group’s property business performed strongly during 2020. The Group continued to deliver on its property development strategy which has seen it invest over €130 million and deliver 1 million sq ft of commercial property solutions across the Shannon Campus at Shannon Free Zone and Shannon Airport since 2015.
“Our latest project, a development of three advanced manufacturing and logistics facilities totalling 148,000 sq ft on a 12-acre site in the Shannon Free Zone is now complete. US/UK based clinical-stage gene therapy company MeiraGTx have taken two of these buildings and are currently undertaking a significant fit-out,” said Ms Considine.
Further strategic developments are planned for the Shannon Campus in 2021. The next phase of its property portfolio development strategy will see the delivery of a new 40,000 sq ft R&D high bay technology unit, the redevelopment of two existing buildings as multi-purpose units and small office suites. The Group is also advancing a planning application for the development of a 60,000 sq ft warehousing facility. In line with its commitment to sustainability, work continues on installing smart infrastructure throughout Shannon Free Zone.
“We continue to work with Fáilte Ireland to secure funding that will enable the delivery of an ambitious project to significantly enhance the visitor experience at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.
“For much of 2020 our attention was on taking the difficult but necessary steps to allow us to survive the immediate crisis. Our focus is now firmly on recovery and rebuilding our business. We will eventually recover from the economic impact of COVID-19; however, aviation industry experts are predicting that it will take a number of years for activity levels to return to anything like normal,” said Ms Considine.
“Throughout the crisis we continued to maintain close relationships with our aviation partners and were pleased to end 2020 on a positive note, with Ryanair announcing it would re-open its Shannon base with one based aircraft and recommence 14 routes for Summer 2021. Since then, we have had further good news with Ryanair adding a new route to Corfu, bringing to 15 the total number of destinations available from Shannon in 2021. The success of these Ryanair services and the return of the Aer Lingus and other services at Shannon are key to restoring connectivity for this region, and will be dependent on the success of the vaccine rollout and the implementation of a roadmap for reopening aviation,” she said.
“It is hoped the expected easing of restrictions over the coming months will see our day visitor attractions sites re-open for the summer and we are delighted to reopen some of our outdoor heritage sites in Clare and Dublin this week.
“Prior to COVID-19, Shannon Group activities made a significant contribution to the economy supporting over 46,000 jobs, generating an economic impact of €3.6 billion per year and contributing €1.1 billion in Exchequer returns annually. I am confident that our own efforts, alongside the right supports for the Irish aviation and tourism sectors, will help ensure Shannon Group’s recovery from this crisis,” said Ms Considine.
To view Shannon Group’s annual report for 2020, click here.