It’s hard to believe, but we’re in the home stretch of 2013. It has been quite a year. Since joining the YVR team back in July, I’ve met hundreds of YVR employees, delivered dozens of presentations, celebrated two major airline service announcements and tried 17 different kinds of dumplings on my recent six-city, 10-day visit to China.
In fact, I’m just back from this trip, my first to mainland China. Accompanying me was a handful of Airport Authority executives, and the goal of our trip was simple: get to know our airline partners, visit the airports served by the 75 weekly flights to China and see this incredible growing market firsthand.
It quickly became known as the “running out of superlatives tour.” The airports are beautiful, efficient and enormous. For instance, 83 million passengers use Beijing Airport every year; by way of perspective, YVR welcomes 18 million. We had a chance to fly on each of our five existing China-based carriers – Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Sichuan and Cathay Pacific – and every one offers exceptional onboard service and customer care.
We talked with many airline executives and airport operators, and several key themes emerged from these conversations. The most frequent refrain? Please simplify the visa process. You might remember that this was one of the big asks of the federal government during my October address to the Vancouver Board of Trade.
The truth is that if Canada is not making it easy for these travellers to come to Vancouver or other Canadian destinations, they will go elsewhere. Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. all offer simpler travel visa applications. And while we are fiercely proud of our city and province as a world-class travel destination, these other destinations can be just as appealing to China’s vast middle class with the means and interest to travel.
To see the staggering volume of potential travellers in China was really exciting. If YVR can capture even a fraction of a percentage of the 750 million new middle class travellers expected in China in the next 15 years, we will see more travel opportunities, more economic growth, more jobs - all of which enable us to deliver on our mandate to be B.C.’s airport.
Are things changing? Slowly, incrementally. The changes we’re looking for are simple, but they’re also not quick or turn-key. We’ll continue to work with stakeholders like the federal Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, with whom I met in November. And we’ll continue to market YVR to airlines globally.
On the subject of airlines, you may have heard that All Nippon Airways (ANA) will operate daily non-stop service from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) to YVR beginning in late March 2014. This new service will mark ANA’s first flight to Canada, and we’re delighted to welcome them to our network. Remember those air bilaterals I’ve been talking a lot about recently? This is exactly the kind of growth that’s made possible by liberalized air service agreements - in this case, between Canada and Japan, and Haneda Airport.
And rather than dip a toe into YVR-Haneda service with just one or two weekly flights or seasonal operations, ANA has immediately committed to year-round, seven-days-a-week service to connect businesses and travellers on either side of the Pacific. To me, that kind of decisive investment in our market speaks volumes about our role as the key gateway airport to Asia-Pacific.
B.C. and Japan have long been linked culturally and economically. And although the number of Japanese tourists to Canada has dropped in the past decade due to Japan’s economy, I think this new service is set to help change that. And here at home, more tourists means more jobs: about 360 local jobs for this new daily flight alone. You can read more about this new service in our lead story.
With another year almost in the books, I hold to my belief that YVR, the Lower Mainland and B.C.’s best years are ahead of us. We’re on the cusp of global greatness, and with air service like that offered by ANA plus support from our federal partners, we’re set to add millions more passengers and thousands more jobs to B.C. After all, that’s what we’re here to do.
If you’re travelling through YVR this holiday season, I wish you a safe and pleasant trip. Have a great time, wherever you find yourself, and I’ll be talking to you soon, in 2014.