Travel Weekly's Ireland E-letter: March 25, 2004

U.S.-ULSTER AIR LINK?: Nonstop flights between Northern Ireland and the U.S. might be waiting in the wings, according to airport officials in Belfast. Albert Harrison, managing director of Belfast Int'l Airport, said he is working closely with Northern Ireland's publicly funded Air Route Development company to "create direct access to ... key markets in Europe and North America." But where to? Harrison hinted in a recent British Broadcasting Co. interview that New York may soon be the first U.S. destination served by such flights, and--indeed--unsubstantiated industry rumor on this side of the pond has it that Continental Airlines' service out of Newark, N.J., is in the works. A spokeswoman at the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau said nonstop U.S. service "so far is just talk [but] we really are trying to establish a route."

MORE FLIGHTS: Belfast also gets more air links with Europe this year, with new nonstop service to France, Spain, Belgium and the Czech Republic. Primeflight announced last month that it's beginning twice-daily service to Brussels, while low-cost airline Jet2 said it will add Prague flights from Belfast at the end of April. And easyJet revealed it will double service as of late June from Belfast Int'l, with flights to Alicante and Malaga in Spain, as well as French cities Nice and Paris [Charles DeGaulle]. easyJet also will increase service between London [Gatwick] and Belfast to four flights daily, up from the current three, as of May 27. According to Harrison, other possible new European routes from Belfast include Geneva, Switzerland; Barcelona, Spain; and several German cities. For more information, see www.bial.co.uk, www.easyjet.com, www.primeflight.co.uk and www.jet2.com.

URBAN QUICKIES: Independent travelers might be interested in City Break packages from Sceptre Ireland. The firm's city stays--designed for clients short on time--are four-night breaks in the Killarney, Cork, Dublin, Galway or Shannon regions. Each City Break package includes roundtrip airfare; four nights in a first-class or deluxe hotel; rental car; and full Irish breakfast daily. Prices start at $543, per person, net. For more information, call (800) 221-0924 or visit www.sceptreireland.com.

GROUP NEWS: Celtic Tours unveiled its Fall 2004/Spring 2005 Ireland Group Programs, with guaranteed land prices. Departures are available October through April 2005 with air-inclusive prices starting at $668 per person via Aer Lingus from New York [Kennedy], Boston and Baltimore-Washington [BWI]; Chicago and Los Angeles departures are also available. Celtic also announced a new commission structure: 30 to 48 passengers, 15% commission on land, plus two free places; 25 to 29 passengers, 14% on land, plus one free place; 20 to 24, 12% plus one free place. Celtic also pays 5% on group air rates. In other news, Celtic Tours also selected Travel Insured Int'l as administrator of its travel protection program; benefits are provided by TIG Insurance Co. and the protection plan advertised in Celtic brochures is no longer available. Pricing starts at $69 for trips worth up to $1,500; $99 for trips $1,501 to $2,500; $133 for trips $2,501 to $3,000; and $154 for trips priced $3,001 to $3,500. The commission is 10%. For more information, call Celtic at (800) 833-4373 or visit www.celtictours.com.

WELCOME MAT: The 10 new European Union member countries will be greeted by special, free public events across Ireland--which holds the E.U. presidency through June- when they join the regional grouping May 1. In Dublin, the "Day of Welcomes" will be celebrated with fireworks April 30 and a European Fair on Merrion Square and rock concert on O'Connell Street May 1. Events--each paired with an accession country such as Poland, Estonia or Cyprus--are also planned in 10 other Irish cities. For more information, visit www.eu2004.ie.

GREEN SKIES: Profits and passengers are on the up-and-up at Aer Lingus, which reported a profit of $84.5 million--a 96% increase over 2002--for 2003. Meanwhile, overall passenger numbers were up 6.2%, to 6.6 million--with transatlantic pax up 19.4%, to 1.1 million. And the Irish flag carrier's load factor rose 3 points, to 81%. In addition, Aer Lingus said it's managed to reduce costs by $420 million--or 30%--since 2001, and migrate 50% of bookings to www.aerlingus.com. On the development front, Aer Lingus will add 13 new European routes this year, and will transition to an all-Airbus aircraft fleet by the end of 2005. For more, visit www.aerlingus.com.

ON AIR: Meanwhile, Ryanair said it will start service to three new European destinations--Reus and Murcia, both in Spain, and Nottingham East Midlands in the U.K.--from Dublin April 29. For more information, visit www.ryanair.com.

HAVE EUROS, WILL TRAVEL: Ireland's Dept. of Arts, Sport and Tourism allocated some $5.5 million for 13 programs under the Failte Ireland's Tourism Product Development Scheme. The department approved grants for the redevelopment of the Lisdoonvarna Spa Wells; construction of a 520-seat traditional Irish dance theater at the North Kerry Arts/Tintean in Co. Kerry ; path upgrades for the Wicklow Mountain Ways Network, Kerry and Dingle Ways, and Shannon Region Waymarked Ways; and for development of a new Wexford Tourist Office, in Co. Wexford, among other projects. For more details, visit www.arts-sport-tourism.gov.ie.

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