Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thunder Bay Welcomes Porter Airlines

One of our best tourism assets is the Thunder Bay International Airport Authority (http://www.tbairport.on.ca/). Of all Northern Ontario communities, Thunder Bay has the best airlift capacity, giving us an edge in promoting tourism, particularly the conference and sport segment. That asset is about to become even better with the recent announcment that Porter Airlines (http://www.flyporter.com/) will begin offering daily service between Thunder Bay and Toronto Island Airport starting June 26. Porter has announced three flights daily during the week and twice daily on weekends.
This addition is important on a number of different levels. Porter has a reputation of serving major financial and cultural centers including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Chicago and Halifax. Being aligned with these cities through the common bond of Porter has fantastic potential to open up new markets. Just being in the same league with these other centers raises the profile of our fine city. This also extends our airlift capacity. Any one of us who flys in and out of the city knows exactly how full the aircraft are at the present time. Those who see this as the pie being split into more smaller slices could be accused of looking at the situation myopticly. We have a chance to grow the pie bigger, and ensure everyone benefits but it will take a collective efforts of all of us in the industry to grow the pie through innovative partnerships.

Porter will fill a niche and provide more options. I priced out one way Thunder Bay to Toronto fares today on their website and at $155 each way pre taxes and fees, its competitive and offers good value. In my travels, I rotate around all of the airlines. and while I secretly have my favorite, the service and reliability across the board is pretty standard....and pretty good. I'm looking forward to adding Porter to my rotation.

I was at Seatrade Cruise Shipping Miami a week ago when I read the Porter news on my Blackberry and I have to say, the buzz within our conference delegation was immediate. In the context of the conference group, we discussed how Porter can be a marketing tool to attract high end expedition cruise ships to use Thunder Bay as a terminal to Lake Superior adventures, reaching large motivated cruise travel markets in some of North America's biggest centers. I have been getting emails from tourism colleagues across the continent this week about the Porter development. Good news travels fast and the industry recognizes what this means for our future.

Porter will also provide new opportunities for the mining and health care segments in downtown Toronto to get here more efficiently but it also can open up the affluent business and outdoor markets in Chicago and New York. Thunder Bay now stengthen's its position as a regional center and gateway to the outdoors and marketing to the affluent anglers, kayakers and wilderness enthusiests in these large markets can bode well for us with the right partnerships and tactical programs.

Having Ontario's third busiest airport means we are also well served by a number of international and regional carriers. Recent developments on the landscape with some of them will bode well for us as well. Air Canada Jazz (http://www.aircanada.com/), Westjet (http://www.westjet.com/)and Northwest (http://www.nwa.com/) connect us to the rest of the world effortlessly. Bearskin (http://www.bearskinairlines.com/) and Wasaya (http://www.wasaya.com/) are important regional carriers that support Thunder Bay's reputation as a regional hub for mining, government, First Nation, health sciences and education segments. The Northwest/Delta merger could open up new markets as will the code share agreement recently announced between Westjet and Southwest Airlines (http://www.southwest.com/)

As part of our shift to experience based marketing campaigns that target North America's largest travel segment - the outdoor adventure seeker- these developments across all of the airlines will help us reach those avid markets farther afield. We've seen increased interest from California, Florida and Texas, states that swelter in the summer months. We potentially could be capitalizing on our comfortable summer temperatures and abundant wilderness as well as targeting key health sciences, mining, education and sport tourism traffic selectively. Building editorial relationships with the airline's inflight and web based travel magazines allows us to reach new consumers easily and in a controlled way. Afterall most of us flip through the inflight magazine while we fly. It all starts with building awareness, than buzz, than making Thunder Bay a name people hear so often, they just have to visit.

What it really comes down to is looking at the opportunities that exist around us and developing new ways to capitalize on new markets. We need not look much further than our air partners to identify potential new economic developments. Welcome to Thunder Bay, Porter Airlines! We're looking forward to working with you.

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