By: Jim Pettinger
Over the years, Bellingham International Airport (BLI) has competed for Canadian travel dollars, particularly when the loonie strengthens against the greenback. However, during 2012, with the loonie hovering around par, competition is at a fever pitch.
First, Alaska Airlines announced cheap flights to Honolulu. Then Allegiant Air countered with flights to both Honolulu and Maui. Alaska has subsequently added Maui flights as well. And now, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is attempting to sweeten the pot for flights departing from Vancouver. However, with taxes being the main differential, YVR may be fighting a losing battle. Nevertheless, YVR is making an effort by lowering parking costs and urging airport retailers to offer coupons to travelers. It also touts other advantages, such as service by rapid transit and shorter driving distances.
The Hawaii flights have only added to BLI’s advantage. Both Alaska and Allegiant have already established a steady business from Bellingham to many cities in the sun, including Las Vegas, Reno, Palm Springs and Phoenix.
One measure of BLI’s success can be seen by the number of new “park-and-rides” that have opened near the airport by various entrepreneurs holding land that has not been very marketable during the recession. Another is the $17 million project currently underway (scheduled for completion in the fall of 2013) that will add 60,000 sq. ft. to the main terminal.
One overlooked consequence of Bellingham’s bevy of outgoing flights is that people living at the various new destinations are enjoying the opportunity to book the inexpensive returning flights. Their reasons vary, but low-cost outdoors tourism is high on the list. While Hawaii may be thought of as a premiere golf destination, your average Hawaiian may find that a week of golf in the Bellingham area may be much less expensive (including flights).
While the number of flights from Vancouver to Hawaii still outnumber those from Bellingham by about 3 to 1, the competition is heating up and travelers are the winners.
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By: Jim Pettinger