It’s a phrase often heard on jets bound for Sin City: “Vegas! Whoo-hoo!”
Sam Samaddar hopes he’ll soon be hearing this: “Kelowna! Whoo-hoo!”
Earlier this week, Kelowna International Airport was awarded federal funding to help promote international tourism. The announcement was made in conjunction with Saskatoon’s airport, with the two sharing $840,000 to promote, develop and sustain new cross-border air routes.
Kelowna International Airport director Sam Samaddar said YLW is eyeing increased flights to Las Vegas. Kelowna is the 10th-busiest airport in Canada.
“When we look at Las Vegas, people think of it as an outbound market for Kelowna,” said Samaddar. “But, really, there’s a lot of people who work in Las Vegas, and we want to attract those people to come and visit Kelowna and the region.”
Currently, direct flights from Kelowna to Las Vegas are seasonal, from June to October through Swoop Airlines.
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“Our goal is to get that to year-round,” said Samaddar.
He said Las Vegas is “our single biggest market into the U.S. that we didn’t serve until recently.”
Samaddar added YLW is also looking at more trips to Phoenix, a return to having flights to Los Angeles and maybe a direct or indirection connection with Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“We started with Phoenix with one flight. It’s more seasonal at this point, but we’ve added two flights a week.”
Samaddar said the airport has “lots of good connectivity with Calgary.”
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The increase in flight possibilities come as YLW is experiencing unprecedented growth. In 2018, the airport’s passenger total was just over two million, up 31 per cent from 2015.
“We continue to hear from our community about the importance of enhancing our air service connections for economic development, tourism and travel opportunities. This is especially true for Kelowna’s tech sector.”
Samaddar said connections through the U.S., such as Seattle with Alaska Airlines, Las Vegas with Swoop Airlines starting in June, and seasonal service to Phoenix with Westjet, “are crucial for local business and economic development in our region.”
Samaddar said YLW is eyeing other American markets “that we will continue to pursue as we look for opportunities to expand our connections into the U.S.”
According to Samaddar, for every one million travellers who venture through Kelowna International Airport, the economic impact translates to 1,400 jobs, $93 million in wages, $137 million in gross domestic product, $342 million in economic output and $50 million in taxes.