Dundee Becomes European City with New Flight

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Direct flights between Dundee and Amsterdam went on sale today from £25 each way. The taxpayers’ lobby may take issue with it, but this new flight could be a game changer for Dundee. While it brings some major opportunities, these do not come automatically – we need to work hard to ensure that the city (and the taxpayer) reaps the full benefit.

Connectivity is everything

So, why is this connection so vital for Dundee? In short, because it gives us a one hour connection to Europe, to the UK’s principal hub airport, and to the world. And in today’s global economy and culture, connectivity is everything.

Heathrow has long since relinquished its role as the UK’s main hub airport, as Tom Forth argued recently in City Metric. It connects to just 7 UK airports, while Manchester flies to 13 and Amsterdam’s Schiphol flies to 24. Any creditable UK hub airport should also offer good rail connections. Heathrow has one rail connection: to London. Manchester Airport, on the other hand, has rail links to just about every city in the north of England and Scotland. With a rail link to London, Schiphol draws equal with Heathrow in terms of UK rail connectivity, but provides direct rail connections throughout The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Unlike Heathrow, it is a pleasure to use and easy to navigate.

There are three potential benefits for Dundee – an increase in tourism, more attractive for international students, and better international connectivity for businesses and the public sector.

Time to up our tourism game

When EasyJet launched its direct flight from Newcastle to Schipol in 2012, it was estimated that it would deliver 30,000 visitors to the city annually. For V&A Dundee to work and deliver fully to the city, and the taxpayer, it requires a significant hike in tourism. This flight gives us an opportunity to attract tourists from The Netherlands, Belgium and northern Germany. With this flight, Dusseldorf could be five and a half hours away door to door, which makes a weekend city break to Dundee realistic. You leave home at 3pm, and around 8.30pm you’re easing your knees under a table in the Malmaison to enjoy a brasserie that top critic Jay Raynor described as one of the finest he’d recently enjoyed.

In total, around 50 million people are easily within five hours’ door to door travel from Dundee with the new flight – indeed many of them are well within this time. That represents a lot of potential visitors, but we have to attract them with a totally unique offer. Our competition is Edinburgh, Newcastle, London, Paris and Berlin. With new opportunities come new challenges. Time to up our game.

Creating a unique offer requires a visionary, co-ordinated, targeted and enterprising approach. We also need to revitalise our street culture and service provision for tourists. Recent initiatives are a great start – but need to go much further. Imagine river taxis from the airport to Discovery Quay, welcoming visitors with one of the most spectacular entries that any city could offer. How about a cable car up to the Law? An iconic museum and a new flight is just the start. We must think very big if these are truly going to transform Dundee. The time for thinking small and modestly is over.

Benefits to our knowledge and creative economies

Both of the city’s Universities (and indeed the city itself) need a healthy stream of international students, but we fall short of fulfilling our potential. Think of it from the students’ perspective and you’ll see why. Those that come here love the experience of studying and living in ‘Britain’s coolest little city’ (GQ Magazine) – but they have a fair trek to enjoy it. Even if your port of entry is Edinburgh, there’s 30 minutes on the bus to Haymarket, and if you’ve just missed a train you may have at least another two hours until you reach Dundee. And that after a 12 hour flight from Shanghai and an hour (probably more) negotiating Border Control.

But assume that on arrival from Shanghai there’s a problem with your visa. If your port of entry is Heathrow or Edinburgh then it’s a safe bet that you’ll be on the next flight home, but if your port of entry is Dundee, then within five minutes a member of the University’s international team can be at the airport trying to sort things out. As well as being the UK’s coolest little city, we could be the most welcoming little city.

Dundee is big on knowledge and creative businesses – whether it’s our world class research in life sciences or our vibrant video games sector. These and other related industries in Dundee are all globally connected. The scientists, designers and technologists who work within them need to travel internationally to do their work on projects which often involve partners in different countries. Our connection with Schiphol makes this easier, quicker and quite a bit cheaper, enabling more of this type of work to take place (with savings for the taxpayer). Local designers like Hayley Scanlan have succeeded in developing world markets for their products – but opportunities increase considerably when the world starts paying you more regular visits. There is also Dundee’s aspiration to develop a film industry. International air links makes this a far more likely proposition.

But this is no silver bullet. One flight by itself will do little or anything for Dundee’s future. We need to be enterprising and flexible in bringing vitality to the streets of our city; we need a co-ordinated, visionary and ambitious programme to attract European tourists; the Universities should jointly develop and profile a ‘Dundee offer’ that fully exploits the benefits of the Schiphol connection; and the city should make the most of its link to Europe’s top airport hub when attracting inward investment.

We need to embrace service design as a means of ensuring that that the visitor journey to, through and back from Dundee is welcoming and pleasurable. Frankly, some of the city’s services – especially in food and leisure – need to take a long hard look at how they deliver to the customer. As the only UK UNESCO City of Design, then this is a great opportunity to really show how design can totally transform the experience of visiting Dundee.

All of us learning Dutch would help too. Tot ziens.

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