Virgin America slides out of T.O...Canadians poised for an invasion of India?
It was a noisy birth. And a quiet death.
There was much ballyhoo last June when Virgin America's bright jet landed at Pearson Airport, delivering a planeload of fashionable L.A. types to Hollywood North/Northeast. Sir Richard Branson himself made an appearance at the top of the Thompson Hotel, where he was surrounded by beautiful young women and a couple of aging, male reporters that included me Ino wonder the guy left town).
There was talk of expanding into Toronto and all the great connections between Hogtown and Hollywood, as well as Toronto and San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.
Virgin has been a big success almost everywhere, but apparently it wasn't working so well in Toronto. Last Friday, as I was heading down to Niagara to check out chef Massimo Capra's new spot at the Crowne Plaza Fallsview (very good stuff by the way), I got a note from the public relations woman at Virgin to say, basically, "never mind."
Turns out Toronto is being dumped for Dallas/Ft. Worth. Ouch. It's bad enough they've got the Super Bowl, eh Toronto Mayor Rob Ford? But now they're taking the sexiest airline around and leaving us in the Texas dirt.
It's a blow to Toronto's image, I'd think, although likely not a permanent scar.
"We hope to return to YYZ (Toronto Pearson) at some point, but in the smaller Toronto-West Coast markets we were not able to stimulate demand as quickly as we would have liked," Virgin VP Diane Walke said in a press release.
A story in the National Post suggested Toronto was being dumped for more "lucrative markets."
Some folks are saying Air Canada flights already have jumped in price now that the pesky newcomer is off the Pearson apron.
USA Today also noted the other day that Qantas has dumped San Francisco for Dallas/Ft. Worth, so maybe the folks down in North Texas are onto something. Qantas does codeshare work with American, which makes Dallas/Ft. Worth a better American hub than San Francisco.
INDIA ON THE RISE?
India tourism folks held a news conference this week to say they're banking on big things from Canada.
McMaster University professor Norman Archer conducted a study in the fall of last year and said Canada is the fifth leading source of tourism revenue in India. Some 221,000 Canadians visited in 2009, and he predicts 336,000 will make it by 2015.
In addition to historic sights, there are beautiful mountains for skiing and hiking and also glorious beaches, such as the one at left in the Goa region. Archer said nearly 8,000 people participated in a survey about what they like and don’t like about India. The country was rated highly in terms of value and pricing, as well as food. Cleanliness of public washrooms was the subject of a variety of replies, he said, and others noted that tourism websites could use some improvement.
He said 37 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that locals were warm and helpful, while 46 per cent strongly agreed.
I met Tuesday morning with Jamshyd Sethna of Banyan Tours and a company called Shakti, which operates luxury tours in several regions in India's stunning north; Ladakh, Sikkim and Kumaon. He said they still get Canadians who talk about a fear of getting sick in India, which he said simply isn't an issue for almost anyone as long as they take normal precautions.
Certainly I like the look of Banyan's three-day and longer hikes around Indian villages in the foothills and mountains of the north. The properties - mostly village homes that have been refurbished - look nice but not too, too fancy, and the scenery is beyond glorious.
They do a lot of family holidays, and some travellers are as young as four years old, he said.
Shakti likes to use the phrase "sophisticated simplicity" to describe the places people stay as they trek through the hills and mountains.
"The mattresses are as good as the Hazelton Hotel in Toronto," Sethna told me with a smile. (Hey, if he's staying at the Hazelton his business must be pretty good.)