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Whistler hopes to drive air traffic to YVR

Tourism Whistler partners with YVR to showcase Whistler Blackcomb at this year's World Route Development Forum

Driving more airline traffic to the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and subsequently the tourism markets of Vancouver and Whistler was the goal of a partnership between Tourism Whistler, Tourism Vancouver and the Vancouver Airport Authority during this year's World Route Development Forum held in Vancouver Sept. 19-21.

The annual forum takes place in a different city each year and brings together more than 3,000 international aviation decision-makers from 300 airlines and 600 airports to pitch new routes and services. The forum also offers the opportunity for regional economic growth, showcasing Vancouver and Whistler as attractive destinations for international business and leisure travelers.

"Ideally you want to host it and showcase your airport and your region to encourage new routes into Vancouver, so what the Vancouver Airport Authority is trying to do is showcase not just Vancouver but Whistler as part of the surrounding draw of why increasing airline frequency and capacity will have a good product here," said Karen Goodwin, director of sales at Tourism Whistler.

"What we are trying to showcase is not just Whistler from a tourism point of view but that there is ongoing investment here. Our goal is that they walk away saying, 'This is a more beautiful destination than I thought and there is a positive business upside, maybe I should rethink Vancouver as a potential destination where I can be successful bringing in a new route.'"

On Saturday, Sept. 18, Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb and the Vancouver Airport Authority co-hosted a VIP program for 27 representatives from 13 airlines at Whistler-Blackcomb. Larry Berg, president and CEO of YVR, and Rick Antonson, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver, joined route-planning representatives from companies such as American Airlines, China Airlines, and China Southern Airlines in a full tour of the mountains and resort. The day included a helicopter flight from Squamish to Whistler, a ride on the Peak to Peak gondola, a catered lunch at Steeps Grill at the Roundhouse on Whistler, a talk by Tourism Whistler President and CEO Barrett Fisher, a turn through the conference centre and a walking tour of the village led by Mayor Ken Melamed.

"People really got a sense of the importance of their arrival and they saw the tie-in of Whistler and Vancouver working together and they like that," said Antonson of the tour. "There are some markets, I would use Brazil and Mexico as good examples... there are good segments of both of those markets that frankly wouldn't travel all this way to see Vancouver. They will travel all this way to see Whistler and add Vancouver in, so Whistler is our lead and we do that co-operatively and package ourselves together.

"The Vancouver-Whistler or Whistler-Vancouver co-branding is a treasure that I tell you many of my counterparts around the world would love to have."

Tourism Whistler and Tourism Vancouver have a formal memorandum of understanding and work in constant partnership to further each other's goals. Goodwin says Whistler is a "significant" factor in influencing tourism in B.C., especially in encouraging stable travel numbers during the winter months when many airlines cut back the number of flights landing at YVR.

"Ideally you want a flight to run year-round," continued Goodwin. "You want to make sure their loads are good all year and when we show our strength as a ski resort, that we can drive that load factor through the winter, that's the benefit that Whistler can add to the mix because we know that Vancouver is popular in the summer with the cruises and the meetings and the leisure travel and we can round that out in the winter."

The province of British Columbia vocalized support for the Vancouver Airport Authority on Monday, Sept. 20 when it announced plans to introduce legislation to eliminate the jet fuel tax on jet fuel purchased in B.C. for use on international flights, cutting costs for airlines by approximately $20 million in the 2012-13 year.

"This step would build on the momentum of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games by helping YVR increase international flight frequencies and adding greater passenger capacity," Premier Gordon Campbell said in a press release Monday. "The change would help YVR and British Columbia markets as the preferred air gateway to North America and the world, bringing tourists and added economic activity to our province from around the globe."

The Vancouver International Airport is North America's closest West Coast airport to Asia and Europe. It hosts 70 airlines that serve more than 100 destinations.