Tourism takes flight
In October the federal government announced it was increasing spending on tourism, from $15 million a year to $50 million. On the surface, an impressive commitment in an era of restraint. But last week Ottawa announced something even more important to tourism: a framework for a new bilateral air agreement with the United States.
Negotiators will sit down early in the new year and work out the details. Once the agreement is signed — expected to be in March or April — Canadian airlines will have immediate unlimited access to the U.S. from any point in Canada. American airlines will add six new routes to Vancouver International Airport next year, and another six in 1996.
Vancouver International is hoping American carriers will add direct flights from Dallas, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix and Denver, among other cities. Texas, New York, Florida and the American south have large ski populations, while Dallas, Denver and Chicago are major hubs in the American spoke-and-hub system of air routes.
Vancouver International is seen as a major beneficiary of the air agreement. Tourism Industry Association of Canada Chair John Gow said the airport represents "a major Canadian tourism resource."
Two other factors which should increase north-south air traffic: Canadian Airlines International and Air Canada have each formed partnerships with American airlines in recent years, and Vancouver International is building a new runway, which will allow the airport to handle more flights.
What this will mean for us is more Americans coming to Whistler, and not only for the skiing. With more direct flights to Vancouver and the exchange rate so lopsided in favour of U.S. dollars, Whistler will become more attractive to the U.S. convention business. With three "designer" golf courses open in Whistler next summer, and courses in Furry Creek, Squamish and Pemberton, the destination golf market may start to take notice of the region.
The air agreement might even mean that a regional airline could be successful flying out of the Pemberton or Squamish Airports.
We're still a long way from Aspen, where you can pick up a brochure that tells you what flights to take from just about any major city in the world to get to the Colorado resort. But of course Aspen has its own airport, while Whistler — fortunately — does not.
Still, more direct flights from more cities to Vancouver will have a significant impact on Whistler. Are we prepared?
– Bob Barnett