Investment in marketing and connectivity are key to attracting business to Yorkshire, Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs said.
The airline’s chief marketing officer, who is the architect of a €25m programme to overhaul the brand’s reputation, said the region must always sell itself internationally and backed calls for a rail link to Leeds Bradford International Airport.
Speaking at the airport, Mr Jacobs said: “Never say that the marketing plan for getting Europeans to visit Yorkshire is good enough.
“The guys over in Manchester and Liverpool are working on their plan, so always work at that and tell the great story that Yorkshire has to tell.”
Ryanair has seen passenger numbers rise from 81 million to an expected 90 million this year.
A total of 820,000 people will travel with Ryanair through Leeds Bradford in the 12 months to March - five per cent lower than last year, despite planes being busier.
Its upcoming summer schedule includes an additional route to Riga, taking the total number of destinations served to 21.
Mr Jacobs said the airline’s growth in the region had been hampered by “capacity constraint” which will be eased by the addition of 40 aircraft by this time next year. However, any future expansion must always be backed by demand, he said.
Funding is an essential to Yorkshire’s efforts to promote what it has to offer in terms of “sports, tourism, culture and the history of Britain” he said. “You’re never there in terms of working on [promotion],” he said.
“I would always encourage the regional and national government to get as much money as you can and push the guys responsible for marketing Yorkshire.”
Around 25 per cent of Ryanair customers are business travellers, although Leeds Bradford mainly serves traditional sunshine-getaways, Mr Jacobs said.
As home of two of the UK’s largest retailers, Asda and Morrisons, business travel demand does exist but is expected to rise.
May’s general election will likely play a critical role in boosting demand for business travel in the region, as political parties look to win Northern votes.
“I’m guessing they’ve got to put their money where their mouth is and that means more jobs coming here, more incentives for businesses to be based here,” he said.
Mr Jacobs supported calls for better transport links to Leeds Bradford, as the definition of journeys changes. Fast public transport links are “really important” to customers looking at airport choice, he said.
However, Mr Jacobs argued a fast rail link to Manchester may not help Leeds Bradford’s fortunes, as it could draw more customers to rival outpost Manchester Airport.
Ryanair is Europe’s largest airline. In 2014, it surpassed British Airways to become the second-largest UK carrier after EasyJet.
This year it will carry 32 million people in the UK and expects to grow to 36 million by 2017.
With average Ryanair fares undercutting average prices across Europe by €117, the firm will cut €10.5bn from the cost of travelling in the continent this year.
The business is one year into a three-year improvement programme - dubbed Always Getting Better - that has improved its in-flight and digital offerings, and tackled the brand’s image.
Changes include allocated seating, an additional cabin bag allowed, website improvements, a mobile app and the Family Extra and Business Plus loyalty schemes. The €25m investment has largely been cost neutral due to rising passenger numbers, Mr Jacobs said.
Yorkshire’s airports performed well in 2014 across a range of traffic.
Leeds Bradford Airport announced a record year, with more than 3.3 million passengers travelling through the hub.
Doncaster Sheffield Airport saw a 112 per cent increase in the tonnage of cargo it carries. Its figures have grown consecutively for two years.