An organisation consisting of County Clare's principal tourist agencies has described Aer Lingus' announcement that it does not intend to change its decision about ending a service between Shannon and Heathrow as "extremely disappointing, but not unexpected".
The Clare Tourism Forum said the onus is now on the Minister for Transport and Government to ensure that a replacement airline is found to continue four direct flights between Shannon and Heathrow.
Meanwhile, three leading members of the Forum have revealed that multi-million Euro developments have been put on hold, pending the outcome of efforts to retain a direct link from Shannon Airport to Heathrow.
Doonbeg Golf Club, The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis and Dromoland Castle have all warned that they have been forced to rethink major investments in infrastructure, as result of the announcement by Aer Lingus.
Speaking following a special meeting of the Clare Tourism Forum, Joe Russell of Doonbeg Golf Club stated - "€100 million has already been invested in Doonbeg Golf Club, with a planned €50 million further investment, over the next couple of years. The owners are now rethinking that investment, given their two priority markets are now under threat - North America and the UK.
"The carpet has been pulled from under tourism in general in the region. It is not only Doonbeg Golf Club, but also the many private family-run businesses along the coast - as well as the world-renowned Lahinch Golf Club - that will be seriously affected. In the absence of an Aer Lingus reversal on this, what is the Government's response?"
Mark Nolan, General Manager of Dromoland Castle added - "It has been a bitter-sweet day for Dermot Mannion and a bitter-sweet day for Dromoland Castle, who were, this week, granted planning permission for major development works at Dromoland. The Board of Dromoland has decided to put the approved development on hold in light of the Aer Lingus decision."
Meanwhile, Mary Gleeson, General Manager of the famed Old Ground Hotel in Ennis commented - "The Old Ground Hotel has planning permission for a new 130 bedroom hotel on the Galway Road. The decision to proceed with this major capital investment has now been put on hold."
Speaking on behalf of Clare Publicans, Michael Howard said - "Our members are dependent very much on the tourism trade for the survival of their businesses. Tourists - particularly those of Irish extraction - coming into the Shannon Region from Heathrow, represent a substantial part of the business in pubs. Any change in the accessibility from Heathrow will cause a serious downturn in employment in the pub sector and could result in putting some of our members out of business."
The Clare Tourism Forum was established in November 2005 with the objective of mobilising a collaborative strategy to sustain and develop tourism within the county. Its membership includes representatives of the principle agencies involved in tourism promotion in Clare, in partnership with representatives of the hotel, vintners, tourism retail and B+B sectors - as well as the main local tourism attractions.
According to Forum Chairperson, Cllr. Richard Nagle - "The Forum is now seeking a full restoration of the Shannon/London Heathrow service. If Aer Lingus is not willing to serve the Shannon/Heathrow route, then the onus is on the Government to instruct the relevant agencies to find an alternative carrier to ensure the reinstatement of a workable service and to ensure that the landing slots - previously in place - are available to the new carrier."
He added - "The Forum will work with all interested parties along the Western Seaboard and support any actions proposed to achieve the restoration of the service. We are also requesting all tourism and business interests in the West to write to the relevant Ministers outlining the impact of the Aer Lingus action on their business and future growth and investment in the region."
Tourism Forum Member, Frances Connole of The Burren Centre in Kilfenora added - "This decision is detrimental to tourism in North Clare. Shannon Airport is the main point of entry for tourists to North Clare."