The purpose of the Economic & Tourism Development Plan for the Shannon Airport catchment area was to present a focused Action Plan to assist the airport and the wider Mid-west region to adapt to new circumstances brought about by the phasing out of the Shannon stop rule, under the EU-US Open Skies Agreement, and the withdrawal by Aer Lingus its Shannon-Heathrow service.
Significant progress has been made since the report was published in January 2008. Aer Lingus has reinstated its Shannon-Heathrow service and daily connectivity from Shannon to the US has been maintained, despite the ending of the Shannon-stop rule and the dramatic fall in consumer demand for air travel generally in the past 12 months.
Last year, US pre-clearance facilities were established at the airport for commercial air carriers. Shannon is the only airport in the world outside of the Americas offering these facilities. Preclearance of U.S. bound private aircraft commenced on 1 March 2010. This development has the potential to deliver significant new business for Shannon Airport.
A key component of the Shannon Economic and Tourism Development Plan is a focused tourism-marketing programme introduced by the Minister for Arts, Sport & Tourism to promote the wider Shannon catchment area. I understand that Tourism Ireland, the body with responsibility for the overseas promotion of Ireland as a tourist destination, continues to engage in cooperative marketing campaigns with air carriers to promote ease of access and to stimulate demand for travel to the Shannon region from key source markets. The "Discover Ireland's Wonderful West" campaign was commenced in 2008 on foot of the Shannon Economic and Tourism Development Plan and highlights the attractions of the western region and good value packages on offer. I am advised that €3 million was provided specifically for this purpose in 2008 with a further €2.05 million spent on the campaign in 2009.
I am also advised that the 2010 Budget of the Department of Arts, Sport & Tourism includes €4.9 million for regional tourism marketing campaigns including additional funding provision for the promotion of the wider Shannon Airport Catchment, over and above the funding for promotion of the regions generally. The detail of the marketing activity for the wider Shannon Airport Catchment is being finalised by Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland at present.
Under the Plan the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism asked Fáilte Ireland to arrange an objective and independent study of the feasibility of a regional conference centre for the Shannon region. Indecon Consultants carried out the study which was submitted to Fáilte Ireland and was subsequently presented to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.
The report concluded that the case for a regional conference centre in the Shannon/Limerick area is subject to considerable uncertainty and is marginal at best. Having examined the report, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism agreed with its findings and the report was subsequently made available on the Fáilte Ireland website.
Regarding tourism development generally, Shannon Development, as the regional tourism authority for the Shannon region, continues to work closely with Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland to ensure that tourism in the Shannon region grows to the maximum extent. In addition Fáilte Ireland provides a range of business supports and training which are available to tourism enterprises in the region.
The Economic and Tourism Development Plan also highlighted a number of Road Investment projects for the region. As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme element of Transport 21. The construction, improvement and maintenance of individual national roads, including those listed the Shannon Economic and Tourism Development Plan, is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.
Once the Major Interurban Routes, which includes the M7 Dublin/Limerick motorway, are completed by the end of 2010, the NRA will focus on the completion of the Atlantic Road Corridor (ARC). The ARC will run from Letterkenny to Cork and Waterford via Limerick. The Ennis bypass forms part of this route and was completed in early 2008. The Crusheen to Gort phase is under construction at present. Further details are available from the NRA.
Construction of the first phase of the Western Rail Corridor (Ennis-Athenry) has been completed and services are scheduled to commence at the end this month.