A little variety...and maybe a new market for Toronto tourism.
News today that Virgin America is hoping to land flights from Toronto to San Francisco and Los Angeles - and back, of course - in June of this year is hugely welcome. It would be Virgin America's first foreign destination, a fact that wasn't lost on Tourism Toronto chief David Whitaker.
"We're very, very excited," Whitaker told me by phone this afternoon. "The fact we would be their first destination outside the U.S. speaks well about Canada and well about Toronto and how we continue to evolve."
Some 140,000 Californians visit Toronto each year; about 60,000 from L.A. and 20,000 from San Francisco.
Whitaker noted Virgin America positions itself as something of a lifestyle airline that appeals to urban folks who would be a good target for Toronto; visitors that are into film or fashion or alternative lifestyles.
The strength of the Canadian dollar probably has hurt Toronto tourism, but Whitaker said his group has weaned itself away from selling the city as a discount destination and is instead focussing on the city's culture and urbanity.
Virgin America also plans to add service from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Orlando beginning Aug. 19.
"With strong financial performance, a new ownership structure and growth in fleet size, we're pleased to be able to expand to world-class destinations like Orlando and Toronto this year," said Virgin America President and CEO David Cush. "Both cities are major travel destinations from the west coast, and we're looking forward to introducing our service to travelers in these and other new markets in 2010 and beyond."
It'll be interesting to see if Air Canada supporters go for a fling with Virgin America. The airline has a great reputation for service.BUSY BEIJING
Beijing airport jumped past Chicago's O'Hare last year to become the third busiest airport in the world. And it seems likely to leap into second spot by this time next year.
Figures show Beijing last year attracted 65.3 million passengers, a whopping 17 per cent increase over 2008 (when they held the Summer Olympics). O'Hare, meanwhile, dropped 8.8 per cent to 64.4 million passengers.
London's Heathrow was just slightly ahead of Beijing at 66 million, a 1.5 per cent decline. With the way Beijing is surging, there seems little doubt they'll be ahead of Heathrow when next year's figures roll in.
But Beijing is unlikely to reach number one for a while. Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport had nearly 88 million passengers last year. That was down 2.3 per cent, but they're pretty far ahead of Beijing. For now, anyway.HAPPY BELATED ST. PATRICK'S DAY
Tourism Ireland held a nice event at the CN Tower Wednesday night to celebrate St. Patty's Day. There were some great Irish stories; a few of them possibly true. They also had green apple martinis and Guinness, of course. I prefer Harp, but I'm a bit of a beer wuss...
Anyway, the CN Tower was done up in green lights for the big day. Tourism folks said similar "green" treatments were given to the London Eye and the Sydney Opera House.