Sunday, February 22, 2015

Westjet arrives in Loreto!

One of the realities in living in a tourism development area like Loreto, located in a remote part of the
southern Baja, is how dependent we are on air access for economic success.  At one time, since the Loreto Bay Development began over 10 years ago, there were up to four Airlines serving Loreto from multiple points of origin in the US.  Following the economic turmoil between ’08 and ’09 we were reduced to one Airline with as few as 3 flights per week in a mid-size turboprop carrying about 80 passengers.

Beyond the immediate impact that this reduction in the number and size of planes servicing Loreto had on the number of passengers who were able to fly in and out of Loreto, it also changed the type of passengers who were able to travel here.  Because of the existing ex-pat population in and around the town of Loreto and the growing number of Homeowners in Loreto Bay, when the numbers of flights and the size of planes serving Loreto were reduced the people wanting to travel back and forth to their homes here booked their flights long in advance to be sure they would be able to travel when they wanted to.

This resulted in the flights being heavily pre-
booked months in advance, so when other people who wanted to travel to Loreto for a vacation or short term visit tried to book seats closer to their travel date very often they found the flights sold out.  Presumably this would often result in these potential Visitors having to change their plans and travel somewhere else where there were seats available when they wanted to make their bookings.  This reduction in the numbers of tourists able to visit Loreto hit the Hotel and Restaurant businesses hard and the local economy suffered as a result. 

So in recent years as we have seen a gradual increase in the numbers of flights by Alaska/Horizon from the low of 3 per week to now daily service, we have also seen some improvements in the local businesses that were most negatively affected.  The situation has also been positively affected by the addition of some domestic Mexican Airline flights, like the twice a week service from Aereo Calafia that flies here from Tijuana and continues on to the Mainland.

But what we have all been waiting for during the past 4 or 5 years was the addition of new North American scheduled services to Loreto from somewhere other than LAX where the Alaska flights are from.  About a year ago Westjet, a Calgary based Airline that is now the second largest in Canada, announced that they would begin a weekly flight to Loreto direct from Calgary in mid-February this year through until the end of May, and, after a year of anticipation, the inaugural flight arrived at the Loreto Airport this past weekend. 

To put this event into further context, Calgary was one of the largest markets for Home Buyers here during the marketing phase of Loreto Bay, particularly in the early stages in 2004 and 2005 before the focus of the efforts shifted more to the US market.  So in addition to the sizable number of Loreto Bay Homeowners in Calgary, and their families and friends who are potential visitors here, Calgary will act as a convenient hub for travelers from all over western Canada to connect with the new Loreto direct flight and avoid the complications, timing issues and expense of connecting through LAX which often requires an overnight stay.

While this new scheduled service was an important development for Loreto and the surrounding area, it was of particular significance here in Loreto Bay for those of us from Canada and so plans were made for a suitable celebration at the Airport to mark the arrival of the inaugural flight.  But we were not going to be alone – the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Loreto prepared an impressive display of local delicacies and snacks as well as Margaritas and other beverages.  The Baja Sur Tourism Association had colorful gift bags with T-Shirts and other promotional items donated by sponsors.  One of the best local Mariachi Bands was on hand to serenade the arrivals and along with Tourism Officials, the State Governor, and Loreto’s Mayor were in attendance to officially welcome and greet the President of Westjet who personally accompanied the sold-out inaugural flight.

With only one commercial flight arriving and departing from Loreto Airport most days, the welcoming party that assembled during the hour prior to the scheduled arrival of the new Westjet flight overlapped with the earlier departure of the regular Alaska/Horizon flight causing the Airport to be busier than I have ever seen it before!  As it turned out, both the Alaska departure and the Westjet arrival were somewhat delayed, but when the “big” Westjet 737 pulled onto the tarmac outside the arrivals gate a resounding cheer came from the assembled well-wishers – in spite of the fact that no one on board would be aware of what was going on in the terminal.

Disembarking, Immigration and Customs procedures and baggage claims took the usual time to process the sold out flight so it was some time before the first Officials from Westjet emerged into the Airport concourse but the patient welcoming crowd cheered them enthusiastically with signs, balloons and streamers.  After the official introductions between the Politicians and Executives took place, they moved to a temporary podium where Westjet’s President made an impressively fluent speech in Spanish in which he referred to the now 7 destinations in Mexico that they served and that last year they had carried over 1,000,000 passengers to Mexico!

After enthusiastic welcoming speeches by the State Governor and Town Mayor, official gifts were exchanged and the “formal” part of the event was completed.  Meanwhile, the passengers continued to emerge from the Security area in twos and threes after their arrivals had been processed – each group of which were greeted with their own ovation from the waiting welcome committee.

In these days of increasingly jaded commercial Airline travel, this event and the genuine enthusiasm of the assembled resident’s welcome of both the Airline and their Passengers harkened back to a time long ago when air travel was a special and exciting event, one to be celebrated by both those on the ground and those who were travelling!  It also reminded me of a time when the flying experience was not overshadowed by security concerns but was an excitingly special occasion.

For most of us who were there to welcome the first of what we all hope becomes an ongoing service throughout next Season, this was one more milepost in Loreto’s growth and evolution into the prime destination it deserves to be, and perhaps the beginning of new adventures for some of the arriving passengers who may come to share the dream of “Living Loreto”!