Business

EasyJet adds to Christmas cheer with three new Belfast routes

From June easyJet will operate flights to Naples (pictured) and Valencia operating twice a week throughout the summer season

IN a record-breaking year for Belfast tourism, budget airline easyJet has delivered an early Christmas present in the form of three new routes as part of over 400,000 seats for the summer season.

The airline has confirmed that from June it will operate flights from Belfast International Airport to Naples, Valencia and the Isle of Man, while the Irish News understands that a second Italian route, believed to be Venice, will be confirmed in the new year.

EasyJet customers in Northern Ireland will now be able to explore even more of the UK and Europe, with flights operating twice a week to Douglas in the Isle of Man throughout the year and flights to Naples and Valencia operating twice a week throughout the summer season. The additional destinations bring easyJet's number of routes operating from Belfast to 31 and comes after the airline announced it will add a sixth aircraft to the base from next summer.

EasyJet's UK country manager, Ali Gayward said they were "committed to expansion" in Belfast.

"The addition of new routes and additional aircraft will help us to deliver long term, sustainable growth, providing passengers with a greater range of destinations, all with low fares and great service.”

Managing director at Belfast International Airport, Graham Keddie added: “We look forward to continued close co-operation with easyJet and yet more prospective route announcements in the months ahead.”

The new air routes for Belfast is another boost in a stellar year for tourism in the city, with visitor numbers, conferences and cruise ship calls all hitting record highs in 2017 according to new figures.

Results for the ten months to October from Visit Belfast show that the city is on track for another record year for tourism, with a significant uplift in hotel occupancy rates, conferences booked and cruise ship arrivals.

Visit Belfast chief executive Gerry Lennon explained that in the first 10 months of this year, hotel occupancy rates reached an average of 82.7 per cent, with average summer room occupancy of 90 per cent, driving room sales up 7 per cent on 2016.

He further outlined a growth in the city's burgeoning conference market, with 62 association conferences bring 23,000 delegates and generating £32 million in additional income for the local economy in the first ten months of 2017.

The figures also show Belfast's popularity as a destination for cruise visitors , with a record 94 cruise ships docking in the harbour and 150,000 visitors, a 10 per cent jump on the 2016 figure.

Yet more success was highlighted through new air routes from Norwegian, Icelandair and Ryanair, leading to a 22 per cent increase in summer seat availability to Northern Ireland, while Visit Belfast's visitor information points, including its flagship Welcome Centre on Donegall Square, handled almost 740,000 enquiries in the year to October, the highest level yet.

“The transformation over the past two decades in how Belfast is perceived by the rest of the world has been nothing short of incredible," Mr Lennon said.

"And we can now claim that we are home to the world's best visitor experience in Titanic Belfast, the UK's best events space in Belfast Waterfront and the best large visitor attraction for luxury group travellers in HMS Caroline.”

"We look forward with confidence to 2018, but we cannot afford to be complacent. There are still some lingering negative perceptions that we must overcome and we must work even harder than our competitors in Great Britain and Republic of Ireland to get visitors to cross the Irish Sea and the border. Brexit remains a challenge for us all, albeit an unknown one, and we will be keeping a close eye on developments," he added.

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