Province’s resilient market rewards those that offer outbound holidays, says Sharon Fleming, director of Thompson Travel International in Portadown

While some tour operators are thriving on the business that comes from our ‘wee country’, it still amazes me that other operators and their sales staff know next to nothing about Northern Ireland.

We’re often told operators don’t price their products in euros – and I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard the line ‘Sorry, we don’t quote in euros’.

The other question we get is ‘Is that near Prestwick?’ And yes, they do mean Prestwick in Scotland!

Northern Ireland is an important market, so operators should try their best to learn a bit about us.

Northern Ireland has two very successful airports: George Best Belfast City airport (named, of course, after the very famous footballer) and Belfast International. Both have successfully attracted major airlines and expanded their programmes for 2016, giving us agents much more scope for our outgoing business.

There are so many opportunities for operators to package directly from Belfast; those that aren’t taking advantage of this growing market are missing out.

Flight options

Here in my own office, based in County Armagh, we are only an hour and a half’s drive to Dublin airport. The close proximity opens up even more long‑haul routes for our clients and in some cases allows us to benefit from the euro rates and lower airline taxes.

Several mainland operators are benefiting immensely from our business as they are now packaging their product with flights from both Belfast and Dublin.

The industry is quickly recognising that this small piece of land contributes greatly to their revenue. We are seeing more new representatives visiting our office, joining our conferences, hosting events and taking the time to travel out of the city centre to rural offices.

That said, the stretch of water that divides us from the mainland can be costly and can give a false sense of pricing when we present brochures to customers that state ‘ex-UK’ prices but don’t actually include Northern Ireland.

We constantly explain that the extra costs we have to add to ‘UK prices’ are because of add-on flights to mainland airports and overnight accommodation. I often wonder if Scottish agents have the same issues?

We are a different market, but more than willing to work with those who work with us. The reps that visit us recognise our needs and get our business as a result of that support we receive.

The likes of Travel 2, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Beachcomber, Wendy Wu Tours and Classic Collection are all doing a brilliant job in working with agents in Northern Ireland.

More operators

It is great to see the operators who have expanded their programmes to include us but we need more. The business is here and we are a resilient market. Our clients want new experiences and destinations, and the easier you make that for us, the easier it is to sell!

As Walt Disney once said: “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that people will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”