Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Toronto Flights May Depart

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Toronto Flights May Depart

Article excerpt

Unable to develop a strong market for its Toronto-to-Jacksonville flights, a Canadian travel company might not return to the First Coast during next year's vacation season.

Air Transat's twice-weekly charters, which end their four-month run Thursday, will have carried about 1,300 travelers to Jacksonville, a figure that is probably too low to convince the company to repeat the service, Jacksonville tourism officials said.

"I'm not sure that they'll do it again," said Kitty Ratcliffe, president of Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. The travel company's officials have "been pretty candid about their lack of success," she said.

Last summer when the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce announced the regularly scheduled charter service, officials saw it as a key step in establishing Jacksonville as a viable tourist market for Canadians, the largest group of international visitors to the state. The chamber contributed $300,000 from its million-dollar air services fund to boost Air Transat's marketing efforts.

The charter flights, however, failed to match expectations.

"We have not had the level of occupancy that we had hoped for as we began to open the Canadian market," said Jerry Mallot, executive vice president of the chamber and a member of its air services committee.

Nonetheless, "it's too soon to call it," Ratcliffe said about Air Transat's decision. That should come early next month, however, when officials have the final tally -- both of the number of travelers and the nights they spent at local hotels.

"We want to get all our numbers, then get their numbers, and then we can sit down with them," Ratcliffe said.

Air Transat officials did not return phone calls on the matter.

Even though Air Transat Holidays, the travel firm's vacation package arm, promoted Jacksonville in its travel literature, it failed to divert Canadians from their regular Florida destinations such as Orlando, Mallot said.

Moreover, unseasonably warm weather in Canada at the start of the winter and the strong American dollar weakened the tourist market throughout the state, officials said. …

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