Set against the backdrop of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, Economic Development Winnipeg hosted 200 YES! Winnipeg investors and Team Winnipeg partners for its first joint event—an insider's discussion on flight connectivity. In this panel discussion, local experts pulled back the curtain on the process behind securing and sustaining routes.
"Flight connectivity spurs interest in Winnipeg as both a visitor and business investment destination, which is critical to our economy," said Ryan Kuffner, Economic Development Winnipeg's President & CEO and panel moderator. "Connectivity inspires leisure travel and levels up our city and province to compete against larger centres in the attraction of world-class business events and new investments."
According to Scott Marohn, VP of Commercial, Winnipeg Airports Authority, "Connectivity is like baking a cake—you need all the right ingredients in place to make sure it turns out. There are so many variables to examine, and it can take anywhere from six months to five years to secure a new route, depending on location. The process is about relationship building and we need all the right partners and providers at the table."
WAA, Winnipeg and Manitoba residents, our local business community and government must examine travel patterns and assess intentions and needs while working in collaboration with domestic and international airlines.
"We have to align all the partners and collect essential economic impact data because that is the way to advance and sustain connectivity," said Marohn. "WAA collects volumes of information about route preferences and interests, passenger counts, corporate travel policies, who's flying where and how often, where people would like to fly but can't, where people have been flying that has been difficult, and why those sitting on the couch at home aren't flying."
In the past two years, through support from the Province of Manitoba, in alignment with the City of Winnipeg and our two main carriers, Air Canada and WestJet, WAA has built back domestic routes decimated by the pandemic. These routes include Thunder Bay, Regina and Saskatoon. They've attracted Porter Airlines Inc. to our airport, which means additional flights to and from Toronto and they've acquired two new non-stop international routes: Los Angeles in 2022 (unlocking growth potential for our burgeoning film industry) and Atlanta in September 2023, connecting Winnipeg to the world's busiest airport.
"The Atlanta flight has been a game-changer for business event planners and association executives coming to our city for advance site visits," said Natalie Thiesen, EDW's VP of Tourism. "Atlanta opens us up to more than 200 destinations with just one stop and this is huge for conventions that require international travel."
Thiesen says the Tourism Winnipeg team is playing the long game. "Events we bid on can be two years out or even a decade from now; connectivity helps us win high-profile bids that drive massive direct and indirect economic impact for our city. Folks will always remember if their travel experience was pleasant or complex, convenient and easy, or long and difficult."
According to Marohn, WAA's key goals would be to get Chicago back, as well as Denver, plus there is interest in New York. WAA would also like to secure a route into Europe (getting London back would be great, but Germany is also a good option).
"Our biggest asks are the Philippines and Asia. The Indian population of Winnipeg is one-third the size of our Filipino community, but they're travelling more and would benefit immensely from better routes."
Amanda Macdonald, EDW's Vice President of Business Development & Market Intelligence, says our organization's understanding of and connection to our business community, as well as our knowledge of sector strengths and growth opportunities, means we're well-positioned to work with WAA to champion connectivity.
"We check in regularly with local business leaders, sector councils and industry associations to stay on top of successes and challenges — and in turn, it's important that you articulate to us what you need to thrive, including connectivity. What routes would help you achieve your business objectives? Are flights departing on optimum days and at the right times? Have we successfully built awareness about the availability of new routes? Then, we need our community to fly the routes, test them out and spread the love among all our resident airlines. We want to support and retain all these valuable options."
In September 2023, EDW administered a corporate travel intentions survey in conjunction with WAA, garnering a wealth of data related to airport experience, desired routes, travel budgets and typical activity. This data will help inform WAA's approach to conversations with airlines.
"Our organization will continue supporting WAA in their mission to advance connectivity for Winnipeg," said Kuffner. "From an economic development standpoint, connectivity fuels business, enables new potential investment, opens us up to bigger events and serves people. It creates possibilities and growth for the future of the city.
Thank you to Economic Development Winnipeg investors and partners who joined us for this first official combined event – it was a true cross-sectoral mixer, celebrating our interconnectedness.