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WestJet now taking passengers to Rome directly from Calgary – so why not from Edmonton?

Click to play video 'A closer look at the availability of direct flights from Alberta to international destinations' A closer look at the availability of direct flights from Alberta to international destinations
WATCH ABOVE: WestJet's new direct flight from Calgary to Rome has some people talking about how many direct flights there are from Alberta's two largest cities to international destinations. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports.

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but airline passengers in Calgary will be able to get to the famous Italian city in much less time than that thanks to a new route being offered by WestJet.

On Wednesday, the airline announced a new direct flight from Alberta’s largest city to Italy’s largest city that will start delivering passengers to the home of the Colosseum beginning on May 2, 2020.

While the flight offers more choice and convenience for Albertans looking to go to Rome, the announcement has some asking why Calgary is getting the direct route and not Edmonton?

Economist Moshe Lander said while he couldn’t pinpoint why Alberta’s capital isn’t getting the same service from WestJet, but he has some theories.

“I hate to say it, given I’m an Edmonton resident, but there’s more to do in Calgary than there is in Edmonton,” Lander said. “Banff is closer to Calgary than Jasper is to Edmonton.

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“So if you’re coming in from Rome and you’re looking to have a little bit of fun outside of the city, Banff is probably more attractive than Jasper and so that’s going to make Calgary more attractive too.”

Lander said landing fees at airports in Calgary and Edmonton may have played a factor, or even minor tax differences.

READ MORE: Calgary International Airport marks another record year for passenger, cargo traffic

Larry Leung, a consultant who works in the aviation industry, told Global News in an email that there’s a number of reasons Calgary is winning the Battle of Alberta when it comes to direct flights to Rome, or when it comes to international flights in general.

“WestJet headquarters are located in Calgary and the airline uses the airport as a major hub for its Western Canada operations,” he said. “As a result, Air Canada built a bigger presence to compete.

“Additionally, WestJet based its ultra low-cost carrier Swoop in Edmonton. That airline has a smaller footprint and only serves North America for the time being.”

Leung added that Calgary being a slightly bigger city than Edmonton likely plays a role and also believes Calgary’s close proximity to Banff “drives tourists to use Calgary as a base more than Edmonton.”

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He also noted that Calgary’s higher per capital GDP compared to Edmonton “likely translates to higher salaries and higher disposal income for travelling.”

As of Wednesday, Calgary has 14 non-stop international flights, not including the U.S. or Mexico, while Edmonton has only two.

However, Edmonton International Airport saw its busiest year yet in 2018, helping to move more than eight million passengers.

READ MORE: Record-setting 2018 for Edmonton International Airport with 8.2M passengers

Traci Bednard, vice-president of corporate communications at EIA, suggested each airport’s market will help determine what types of routes it offers.

“I think one of the things we have to think about in the Metro Edmonton region is how successful we’ve been with air service,” she said. “There may be the new service [to Rome] out of Calgary, but we had the Iceland air service which is only served out of Edmonton. So we’re always going to see that.”

Bednard added that she believes Edmontonians have plenty of direct flight options to warm places at an important time in a northern city: winter.

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“When we think specifically about destinations that Edmontonians want to travel to, and I think about winter coming, there are something like 20 non-stop destinations from Edmonton,” Bednard said, “so places across the U.S., but also into Mexico and the Carribean for example.”

While the provincial rivalry between Alberta’s largest cities currently sees Calgary hold a controlling lead in direct international flights, Leung said that does not always have to be so.

“[Edmonton] can try to attract more companies to build their North American or Canadian base in Edmonton by offering incentives and/or build centres of excellence (e.g. technology, farming, fuel),” he said.

“The city can evaluate its core tourism attractions and its tourism plan (and) build a marketing strategy that improves the city’s exposure to international travellers (why should they fly into Edmonton over Calgary?).”

There is plenty of development taking place near Edmonton’s airport recently, like a new horse-racing track and a massive outlet mall. However, Leung said he does not believe the mall plays a role in what kind of flights EIA can attract.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s new outlet mall sees thousands of shoppers on grand opening weekend

“Having one of the biggest outlet malls in Canada/North America is not a reason to fly into Edmonton as travellers can do daytrips from Calgary,” he said.

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“The city, its tourism board and the airport can work with international travel blogs and media to promote Edmonton as a must-go Canadian city.”