Belfast Telegraph

Icons festival chief defends standard of Belfast's air links after Web Summit spin-off pulls out of city

By John Mulgrew

A Belfast tech festival organiser has said attendees and speakers had "no issue" with air connectivity here, after another event cited a lack of links as a reason for pulling out of the city.

It comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Web Summit spin-off Moneyconf is being moved to the sunnier climes of Madrid, despite assurances the event would be coming back to Belfast.

Negative feedback from visitors and attendees around the lack of air links was one of the main reasons event organisers pulled the plug here.

But Icons festival co-organiser Aaron Taylor - which saw dozens of speakers from across the world descend on the new Titanic conference centre in September - said no attendees had concerns over access to Belfast.

Big names from the world of tech and music, including Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, attended the event, along with former Warner Bros vice-president Bill Daly.

"In essence, we had no issues with connectivity, or bringing people in from the rest of the world," he said.

"We had speakers from the US, Asia and Middle East.

"Not one single person in any form mentioned travel issues.

"We flew a lot of people in to Belfast, in to Dublin, and picked people up from there.

"The distance between the two cities is only really seen as a local thing.

"I've spent more time in traffic going from Newark airport in New York to Manhattan, than I have getting from Belfast to Dublin.

"Certain people may use that as an excuse to move to sunnier climates."

He said the city makes up on connectivity "with the home-town feel people enjoy here".

Moneyconf drew thousands of visitors and attendees from more than 40 countries when it landed at T13 back in June. It was said to be worth £3.5m to Belfast's economy.

But event organiser Paddy Cosgrave is taking the event to Madrid next year.

It comes after a controversial decision to move the main Web Summit event from its native Dublin, to Lisbon in Portugal.

Speaking about Northern Ireland's airport connectivity, Graham Keddie, managing director of Belfast International Airport, said scrapping air passenger duty (APD) was a key tool in bringing in new routes and business.

"Until the devolved government and its civil service realise the damage that APD is causing to our air connectivity we will continue to struggle to bring visitors to our shores," he said.

"The Irish government understood that, the Dutch government understood that, and the Scottish government understands, why not ours?

"APD is also costing us thousands of jobs in both airport-related businesses and the hospitality sector."

A spokesman for Belfast City Airport said it had added new airlines and routes over the last year "increasing Northern Ireland's air connectivity".

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph about Moneyconf pulling out of Northern Ireland, Visit Belfast's Gerry Lennon said he was "disappointed" by the decision and that access to Northern Ireland had to be improved still further.

Belfast Telegraph