The contract with WestJet Encore to bring direct-to-Calgary flights to Penticton airport is nearly complete, according to Penticton’s Economic Development Officer.
“We’re negotiating on some of the finer points of the deal. Certainly we had an agreement in principle on how we wanted to move forward,” said Colleen Pennington.
However, work going on at city hall isn’t just about hashing out the WestJet contract details. Pennington said they are also working to make sure the flights will be a success when they start in late October.
“The thing we are really investigating is how to do we make it into a robust winter season. Given the Oct. 26 start date, it’s always been something I worried about,” she said. “As important as getting the contract done is making sure that we take this opportunity to try to turn around the season from a couple of months summer season into a full winter season with activities throughout all the months.”
Pennington said she has been talking to stakeholders throughout the South Okanagan from Apex to Osoyoos gathering up a list of events that happen in the winter.
Many destinations, she said, have responded enthusiastically to having Calgary to South Okanagan flights, with some even planning new winter events to attract visitors.
“Some people have been very proactive, contacting WestJet directly and working with them on an event they want to host. It’s been a really positive experience across the region in terms of how people want to participate.” said Pennington.
Apex Mountain has events planned for November, and some wineries already have Christmas activities planned, according to Pennington. The expanded connections through Penticton airport should also make the South Okanagan more attractive to snowbirds.
“If you think about the snowbird crowd, if you want to stay in the Canadian health care system, the Okanagan is probably one of the more pleasant places you can come for a winter getaway,” said Pennington.
Another factor, she said, is getting the word out about the new flights, noting that one early campaign came from a chance encounter with a visitor from Alberta. He suggested that with a sizable number of tourists already in town, now was the time to get billboards up letting people know there are going to be direct flights starting in the fall.
WestJet was happy to endorse the campaign, said Pennington.
“The turnaround time is pretty exceptional for a company of their size,” she said. “Within a day, we had a response that they agreed it was a good idea. They are just amazing how quickly they can come up with an idea and get it out there.”