Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
TORONTO — How would one toast Norwegian’s new direct service from Hamilton to Dublin? With a Guinness, of course.
Ireland’s most famous brew flowed freely at PJ O’Brien’s pub in Toronto yesterday, where the low-cost carrier – along with Tourism Ireland and John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport (YHM) – hosted a media lunch to celebrate the upcoming daily direct flights, launching March 31, 2019.
It’s Guinness o’clock in #Toronto, where we’re kickin’ back with a cold one with @TourismIreland & @Fly_Norwegian. The low-cost carrier kicks off Hamiton-#Dublin service in March 2019. Read all about it 2moro at https://t.co/yvLIguDyas! pic.twitter.com/TgWdqeunLS
— Travelweek (@TravelweekGroup) December 5, 2018
Norwegian first announced in June that it was entering the Canadian market with service from Montreal to the French Caribbean (Martinique and Guadeloupe), which commenced in October. Now, the carrier is looking forward to launching Dublin out of YHM, marking its first-ever flight between Europe and Canada as well as the return of transatlantic service to Hamilton following a 10-year hiatus.
Speaking to Travelweek, Anders Lindström, Director of Communications, North America for Norwegian, said that Canada has “so much opportunity”, although the carrier’s Canadian approach has been very different from that of the U.S. where it has grown exponentially to 60 routes since its U.S. launch in 2013.
“In the U.S. we launched a number of routes into airports that were not served or did not have transatlantic routes, thus creating a market,” he said. “But in Canada, we’re doing the opposite. We’re going in and seeing where there is a lot of demand and where we can compete instead, and then growing it from there. We’re going to grow slow and profitable and sustainable, to make sure it really works well in Canada.”
The 6.5-hour direct flight from Hamilton-Dublin will take off onboard the brand new Boeing 737 MAX; Norwegian was the first airline to operate the 737 MAX to/from North America last summer. Two fare options are available – Low Fare and Low Fare Plus – with prices starting at $209 one way, including taxes in April-May, and $279 during the peak months of June and July. Upgrading to Low Fare Plus, which includes airfare, meals and luggage, would cost an additional $70.
When asked how Norwegian is able to offer such affordable fares, Lindström was quick to praise the new aircraft.
“We’re very pleased with the 737 MAX. What it does is allow us to go further – from short-haul to medium-haul – and offer more seats. It’s also one of the most fuel-efficient aircraft in the world, which brings the cost down, which then makes it cheaper for customers,” he said.
Of course, with Canada’s ultra low-cost carrier market filling up with the recent entries of WestJet’s Swoop, Flair Airlines and still-to-come Canada Jetlines (neither Swoop or Flair offer direct service to Europe), ‘cheaper’ has become the new standard. And although Norwegian is a low-cost airline – not a ULCC – Lindström is certain that it can compete with Canada’s new lot of budget carriers.
“We know that Canada already has ULCCs competing to Europe, and we know that we’re not the first or the trendsetters in this market. But we also know that we have a competitive product and a competitive fare,” he said.
Norwegian’s stance on affordable air perfectly aligns with YHM’s overall vision. Dina Carlucci, Director, Marketing & Communications at John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, told Travelweek that Norwegian’s entry is yet another milestone in YHM’s journey to becoming a global gateway for affordable travel and goods movement.
“We’re not looking to compete with Toronto Pearson in any way for what they do as a main global hub in the southern Ontario market,” she said. “We’re looking to establish ourselves in a niche that focuses on low-cost carriers like Norwegian. We’re already working with others who are doing quite well, and we’re expecting the same for Norwegian.”
Carlucci, who said that nearly 20% of YHM’s customers originate from the Greater Toronto Area, added that Canadian travellers naturally gravitate to airlines with “low-cost, nonstop and daily service”, and that the new Hamilton-Dublin route would be a match for the market in the region.
This is precisely what Tourism Ireland is banking on, as Canada remains one of its top markets. Dana Welch, Manager, Canada of Tourism Ireland, told Travelweek that the destination has seen double-digit growth from Canada for the past couple of years, with over 220,000 Canadians visiting in 2017.
“We’re definitely on track for additional growth this year,” she said, adding that it’s never been easier for Canadians to get to Ireland. “Having this new direct flight is really important, it’s a great opportunity to expand in another origin within Canada to get into Dublin.”
Lindström, Carlucci and Welch all agree that travel agents continue to play an essential role in driving growth, and were quick to note that agent support is available at all times. Welch encouraged all agents to sign up for Tourism Ireland’s webinars, attend ongoing industry events and reach out for brochures and materials, while Lindström reminded agents to use Norwegian’s agent portal – agents.norwegian.com – which allows them to get different fare structures.
“When an agent books through the portal, they can make sure their client always gets their luggage and meals included and book seat reservations. And they can price all this, allowing them to add their own commission, so to say,” he said. “We love our travel agents and we know that Canada is more of a market where travellers book through them.”
For more information go to norwegian.com/us.