With direct flights to Dublin, Cathay takes big bet on Ireland

September 11, 2017 08:59
Ireland expects annual tourist arrivals from China to almost double by 2020, with the visitors drawn to various attractions including those in the capital city Dublin. Photo: Ireland.com

Despite posting losses of more than HK$2 billion in the first half of this year, Cathay Pacific has announced the start of a new direct route from Hong Kong to Dublin, the capital of Ireland, from June next year.

It will offer four flights a week, a first from Hong Kong, on that route. It will also be the first direct route from Dublin to the Asia-Pacific region, "a major milestone for the airport and the entire Irish economy," Dublin Airport said in a press release.

"This has been a key objective for Team Ireland in China and particularly for all of us in Hong Kong since the day I arrived in the city to set up the new Consulate General in August 2014," said Peter Ryan, the first Consul-General sent here by his government.

"It changes everything for us and will enhance every area of Ireland’s relations with Hong Kong – particularly the areas in which Ireland has world-class offerings, such as tourism, education, finance, technology or our renowned food and drink products.

"On the most basic level, it will make doing business easier and help us to understand one another better, boosting our already flourishing cultural and people-to-people connections. All going well, it will greatly enhance our efforts to position Ireland as the 'Gateway to the European Union' for Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong, while giving Hong Kong the opportunity to position itself as the landing and launch pad in Asia for Irish start-ups and entrepreneurs. For the Hong Kong and wider Chinese Community in Ireland and the Irish Community in Hong Kong, it will make getting home so much more convenient as well as encouraging more visits by friends and family."

Currently, 40,000 people a year travel between Dublin and Hong Kong. The Asian city has 4,500 resident Irish citizens. To reach home, they must change planes at an airport in continental Europe, the Gulf or the UK as of now.

"Dublin is a fantastic destination and attracts business and leisure travelers from the world over,” said Rupert Hogg, the CEO of Cathay Pacific. "We listened to our customers' demands for more options and greater flexibility and have responded by building direct air links with this great city."

In addition to Irish residents here, the primary market for the new service will be local people. Currently, 250 Hong Kong people are studying at schools and universities in Ireland, up from 50 in 2014.

Irish trade with Hong Kong is enjoying strong momentum as is Ireland’s overall trade with China. The main Irish exports are services, including financial and education, as well as the traditionally strong categories of software and agri-food products, particularly infant formula, which is a star performer.

In May this year, 15 Hong Kong travel agents went to Ireland on a visit organized by Tourism Ireland, the first visit of its type, to introduce them to the island of Ireland and to look at how best to introduce the market to Hong Kong residents. They especially liked the more scenic and historic sites, including the many castles, which they believe will be popular as venues for weddings.

The secondary market for the direct flight to Ireland will be mainlanders. In 2016, Sino-Ireland trade was US$8.07 billion, up 13.5 percent on 2015. As of the end of 2016, Irish firms had invested US$1.68 billion in 350 projects in China, employing 100,000 people. Chinese firms had invested a total of US$261 million in Ireland.

Last year 10 million overseas travelers visited Ireland, up from 9.3 million in 2015. Of these, 55,000 were mainlanders. Tourism Ireland expects the figure to reach 100,000 by 2020. Cathay aims to attract an important proportion of these tourists, as well as business people and students, from the mainland.

In August, Ireland hosted the Women’s Rugby World Cup, in which Hong Kong competed. The team received a special send-off from the Consul-General and took part in the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Tamar Park on March 12 as guests of honor. The pool stages of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Dublin sold out with 17,516 attending matches; the final attracted 17,115 spectators. The tournament had a total attendance of 45,412, a record for this event. A peak of 2.65 million in the UK watched the final on television, almost half the audience for the final at the men’s Rugby World Cup (RWC) in UK in 2015.

It was an excellent advertisement for Ireland’s bid to host the men’s RWC in 2023; it is competing against France and South Africa. World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said Ireland had done an exceptional job in hosting the women’s event.

Following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Ireland is moving to attract more foreign companies, including Chinese ones, to set up their European headquarters in Dublin. It is a center for the financial industry, especially fund administration and management, as well as aircraft leasing, in which Ireland is a global leader with one of every two commercial aircraft in the world being managed from Ireland.

One of Ireland's most important exports to Hong Kong over the last 100 years has been Catholic missionaries. The oldest Irish priest in the world, Jesuit Father Joseph Mallin, is celebrating his 104th birthday here on September 13. In 1948, he was sent to Guangzhou and, in May 1949, came to Hong Kong to escape the victorious Communist armies.

He worked as a priest and teacher at Pun U Wah Yan Primary School, Ricci College in Macau and Wah Yan Colleges in Kowloon and Happy Valley; his pupils included Martin Lee and Donald Tsang. He is well known in Ireland as the son of the late Commandant Michael Mallin, a leader of the Easter Rising in 1916, an insurrection staged by Irish republicans against British rule in Ireland. Michael Mallin was executed by British firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin on May 8, 1916.

Consul-General Ryan will join a gathering of alumni of Pun U Wah Yan Primary School, where Father Mallin is fondly remembered as the founding Principal, to celebrate the Jesuit priest's 104th birthday.

"Getting to spend time with Father Joseph has been one of the highlights of my diplomatic career,” said Ryan. “After even a short time in his company, it is obvious why he is so treasured and honored by all who are fortunate enough to know him and of his lifetime of devotion to the people of Hong Kong and Macau.

"Through his work, in which he was joined by many of his compatriots in the Jesuits and other religious orders, Father Joseph has brought great honor to Ireland and the Irish people. Because of this, although we are located on the other side of the world from Hong Kong, our peoples will always share a special link."

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.