Kelowna International Airport became San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO), seventh Canadian destination and 84th North American destination when United Airlines commenced its daily year-round, non-stop United Express service last Saturday.
SFO, the “gateway to the Pacific,” served 45 million domestic and international passengers in 2013, is the seventh largest airport in the U.S., and one of the world’s 30 busiest airports.
United, together with United Express, operates nearly 300 flights a day from the airline’s SFO hub.
“San Francisco is a great destination,” said Kelowna airport director Sam Samaddar. “It provides travellers better connection points to many more U.S. cities, as well, the San Francisco Bay area is a great region to visit.”
Tourism Kelowna and Big White Ski Resort officials were on hand to welcome the inaugural flight. On board the 50-seat aircraft included five Bay area travel writers who came in for a familiarization tour of Kelowna.
“Generating travel articles and blog posts allows us to showcase Kelowna and the Okanagan to many thousands of readers,” explained Tourism Kelowna CEO Nancy Cameron.
“We know that readers in the Bay Area will be very intrigued by our beautiful destination and will want to jump on the United flight so they can explore for themselves.”
In addition, two travel directors from the Bay Area Snow Sports Council also took the opportunity to tour Kelowna and Big White and were expected to report back to the more than 30 ski clubs in the Bay Area regarding the Okanagan as a possible ski holiday.
The San Francisco ski group market holds big potential for local ski hills, as the Bay Area ski clubs take several ski trips each winter and they can now access the Okanagan with one short flight.
“We’ve already secured a group of 60 skiers from a Bay Area Ski Club on the new United flight,” said Katie Balkwill regional sales manager for Big White Ski Resort Ltd.
“They really like the idea of skiing our champagne powder and taking in the fantastic wine offerings our region has. They have already planned to take a day off from skiing to enjoy a guided Kelowna wine tour during their stay.”
The new daily service is also expected to meet the travel needs of the Okanagan’s growing technology industry.
“Despite all the technology that connects us to other markets, we still depend on air travel for some of our most important meetings,” said Andrew Greer, program manager for Accelerate Okanagan. “We anticipate that daily flights to SFO will continue to help grow the Okanagan technology community, which is already about $1B industry. Within a year of Victoria starting daily flights to SFO, their venture capital investment grew about 200 per cent. We could see growth like that here in the Okanagan.”