Furious Dublin Airport official hits back at ‘bullying’ DUP MP Paisley in row over poaching of tourists
Dublin Airport has dismissed as "totally false" claims by Ian Paisley MP that it is aggressively targeting tourists arriving in Belfast and telling them to "go south".
Chief communications officer Paul O'Kane said it was "ludicrous" to suggest that the airport's marketing campaign is aimed at visitors arriving in Belfast.
Speaking at a Westminster committee earlier this week, Mr Paisley accused Dublin Airport of unfairly targeting customers north of the border and challenged tourism bosses in Northern Ireland to "put it right back in their face".
The DUP MP suggested that 70% of Dublin Airport's marketing budget was spent in Northern Ireland and that visitors arriving there should be told "you've come to the wrong part of the island - you need to be up north".
Writing in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, the DUP MP called for tourism bosses to retaliate through "an aggressive marketing strategy that buys up the advertising opportunities around Dublin Airport and its surrounds and unashamedly points people who arrive there to head north".
But Mr O'Kane said: "Dublin Airport's advertising in Northern Ireland is aimed at Northern Ireland residents and is focused on promoting our unrivalled connectivity and the quality of our airport experience. Mr Paisley's claim about the marketing budget is totally false and without any basis in reality.
"It is ludicrous to suggest that our marketing is aimed at visitors arriving in Northern Ireland by air. They will have already made their travel arrangements.
"As a commercial business, Dublin Airport serves the entire island of Ireland and will continue to invest in advertising to Northern Ireland residents."
Mr O'Kane also said Dublin Airport would continue to support the tourism industry north of the border. "It has done for many years though the provision of global connectivity to and from the island of Ireland," he said.
"In the Northern Ireland market, Dublin Airport is the largest gateway for international (non-UK) visitors though its extensive and growing short-haul and long-haul networks.
"Dublin Airport looks forward to continuing to facilitate even more overseas access to Northern Ireland for tourists and other visitors this year, with new routes to six long-haul and 17 short-haul destinations."
As co-founder and managing director of advertising company Lyle-Bailie, David Lyle was responsible for some of Northern Ireland's most famous TV adverts, including hard-hitting road safety campaigns and the anti-violence messages of the Troubles era.
He said Ian Paisley's call for Northern Ireland to aggressively target visitors arriving in Dublin and direct them north of the border was a step too far.
Mr Lyle, who spent nine years on the board at Tourism Ireland, a position he was nominated for by the DUP, said anyone commenting on tourism needed to understand how the island of Ireland is viewed globally.
"Tourism is an industry which tries to make people happy. It has to make people happy and welcome," said Mr Lyle.
"I've fought the corner for Northern Ireland for a long time and the reality is tourism is not a north versus south industry.
"Northern Ireland needs to have a presence in Dublin, but to tell people they've landed in the wrong place sends out a message they do not need or want to hear.
"Northern Ireland, in many respects, has been a hopeless case over the years when it comes to the tourism business.
"Dublin, Cork, Shannon - that's where the traffic comes in to and the only way to grow Northern Ireland tourism is by attracting people who arrive in the Republic of Ireland to spend three or four nights in the north.
"But people do not want to be bullied into it by Ian Paisley shouting across the border. We need to be friendly, pleasant and show what we can offer.
"Political shouting is the last thing the industry needs. The industry needs to deal in reality, not politics, if it's going to be successful."
"He may think he's now an expert in air travel, but if this is going to be Mr Paisley's contribution he should stay quiet and try and find a topic he knows something about. We need to entice tourists to visit Northern Ireland, not bully them into coming here.
"Who wants to come here and be shouted at by Ian Paisley?"