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Mayors happy about WestJet’s plans to offer Penticton to Calgary daily service
The recent announcement that WestJet is going to offer daily direct flights between Penticton and Calgary is good news for all residents of the South Okanagan, say Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells and Penticton Mayor Gary Litke.
“I think it’s wonderful news and as a council, we’re really excited about the WestJet proposal,” said Wells.
If an Osoyoos resident wants to fly to Calgary, it would take only a few hours, instead of the long journey to Kelowna International Airport, he said.
While he’s worried the proposed service will be offering only mid-afternoon flights from Penticton and Calgary, which would make getting connecting flights to other jurisdictions in B.C., Alberta and the rest of Canada very difficult, Wells believes the service will attract solid traffic, especially during the busy tourist season.
“It’s really great news if you travel to Calgary on a regular basis, although I worry about what you’re going to do if you’re travelling to Toronto,” he said. “Most connecting flights are offered in the morning hours, so it looks like you might have to stay overnight in either Penticton or Calgary if you’re going somewhere else and need a connecting flight.
“But this is a good start and I know I’m really excited about it.”
Air Canada offered a direct Penticton to Calgary service more than 20 years ago and it failed, said Wells.
With Alberta’s economy continuing to thrive and residents from Saskatchewan and Manitoba also wanting to access wine tours and the beautiful weather of the South Okanagan, Wells believes this service can succeed under the current economic climate.
Rumours that WestJet will be looking for taxpayer assistance to develop a marketing plan to promote the Penticton to Calgary service from outside Penticton are just rumours, said Wells.
“We haven’t been asked for anything yet and there’s nothing that I know of coming our way,” he said. “I don’t believe municipalities should be in the business of giving out money to private businesses, especially ones as successful as WestJet.”
As a board member with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS), Wells said he wouldn’t support any proposal to subsidize a marketing plan for a major private company like WestJet.
Litke said the only previous direct flights ever offered from Penticton to Calgary were more than 20 years ago by Air Canada on huge 747 airplanes, which didn’t make any economic sense and failed quickly.
When he read WestJet was introducing a new 78-seat airplane to service smaller markets several months ago, this piqued his interest.
Litke and Colleen Pennington, the city’s economic development officer, made inquiries with WestJet executives and arranged a meeting in Calgary before Christmas to discuss the possibility of offering direct flights between the two cities.
A big part of the pitch focused on the fact there are more than 100,000 residents across the South Okanagan who would be interested in using the service and not just the 35,000 residents of Penticton, he said.
“People in Westbank … could travel 40 minutes to our airport and arrive 20 minutes before their flight and have access to cheap parking, instead of having to battle Kelowna traffic, having to arrive two hours before their flight and have to pay expensive parking fees,” said Litke. “We know people from Princeton and Osoyoos and Oliver would use this service on a regular basis. This got their attention.”
Litke said he and Pennington also approached Air Canada officials at a meeting in Kelowna about a month ago to inquire about the possibility of offering direct flights between Calgary and Penticton, but they had very little interest.
A local newspaper in Penticton wrote about that meeting and Litke’s disappointment.
“We were very blunt and disappointed and made it very clear that whichever company comes through first with a decent offer would get a very good deal (from the City of Penticton),” said Litke. “The next day, officials from WestJet called us back and said they had a plan. Things have taken off from there.”
City of Penticton council has voted unanimously in favour of spending $100,000 on a marketing plan to promote the new Penticton to Calgary service, said Litke.
The money will come from the town’s tourism marketing and economic development budgets, he said.
This is money well spent as the spike in tourism and other economic spinoffs will be dramatic in Penticton and the rest of the South Okanagan, said Litke.
The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) has been hired by the City of Penticton to initiate the marketing plan and will be responsible for inquiring if neighbouring municipalities across the South Okanagan are willing to show support, said Litke.
There will be no pressure on any municipal council to contribute financial assistance, but there will be opportunities for communities to get exposure through branding and marketing, said Litke.
“What we’re saying is the door is open if you want to join us,” he said. “My attitude is we have a huge opportunity here and we would like other municipalities to join us, but we won’t be putting any town council on the spot or turning this into a political issue.”
Penticton will pay the entire $100,000 for marketing if no other communities show support, he said.
If the Penticton to Calgary service is successful, WestJet officials have ensured him more direct flights to other jurisdictions will be coming, he said.
“But we have to make this one work first and that’s why we were willing to make this commitment,” he said. “WestJet has given us one year to make this service successful and that’s what we plan to do.”
Non-stop service between Penticton and Calgary will take off on October 26 as WestJet customers will travel on an Encore Bombardier Q400 NextGen aircraft.
“Penticton’s community support and business case fits with our ongoing commitment to serving the Okanagan Valley,” said Ferio Pugliese, President, WestJet Encore. “We are excited to bring our low fares, great guest experience and convenient schedule to a community in need of air service options. Guests will now have access to 12 same-day connections to WestJet destinations out of Calgary.”
The daily service will see flights leave Calgary at 2:05 p.m. daily and arrive in Penticton at 2:21 (one hour time difference). Flights will leave Penticton at 2:55 p.m. and arrive in Calgary at 5 p.m.
The base fare, including all taxes is $135 from Calgary to Penticton and $103 from Penticton to Calgary.
For more information about everything WestJet, please visit www.westjet.com.