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Why Airlines Are Dramatically Increasing Flights To Smaller Cities

Date: May 16, 2021

By Brandon Schultz, Forbes

American travel may be nearly unrestricted now but long-haul international travel remains almost entirely out of reach for summer, bringing a welcome boost in popularity for domestic destinations nationwide.

After suffering its worst year in history, the airline industry is also experiencing a sudden explosion in demand across North America, leading major airlines to launch new routes almost weekly, often to smaller cities forecasting quick returns to pre-pandemic levels, or even surpassing them.

Many of these smaller cities spent the past year of down-time reinventing and revitalizing, upgrading their tourism and hospitality offerings to welcome the return, and are excited for the visitors these new air connections will bring.

Here, Carrie Westergard, executive director of Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, chats about the bundle of new routes better connecting Boise to the East, Midwest and South, with a few updates on what the Idaho capital has been doing to prepare for the return to travel that is upon us.

Between March 2020 and 2021 the city of Boise had about 125 cancellations of convention/business-related business due to COVID-19. We estimate that we lost more than $40 million in economic impact to the city of Boise from these types of cancellations. But I’d say it left behind something else, too: grit and resiliency, as well as creativity. We’re now seeing an upsurge in permitting and redevelopment downtown to accommodate the visitors who are ready to start coming to their favorite destinations. 

When do you expect to return to normal levels of visitors?

We anticipate a return to the sort of visitor traffic we were seeing pre-pandemic some time in early 2022.

Tell us about the new air routes supporting that return, and why they’re so important for the city.

The Boise business crowd is excited about Delta’s daily nonstop service to Atlanta. Having that eastern hub puts Boise businesspeople at a jumping-off point to big cities up and down the eastern seaboard. Atlanta’s robust international traffic also broadens out our population of visitors: Now we get to consider the European continent as a potential source of travelers to Boise more than before.

Southwest Airlines starts a regular nonstop flight to Chicago in June, linking a city that’s known to have an enthusiastic ski community. Now we’ll get to draw them to our mountains in summer.

Allegiant is launching twice-weekly flights to Nashville at the end of the month. The new direct flights will connect the exciting musical, cultural and social scenes of Idaho’s capital city and Tennessee’s home of country music. The flight marks BOI’s 22nd nonstop destination.

But we really sat up when we heard that JetBlue said it would launch nonstop flights between Boise and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in July. Although we’re in the business of drawing people here, I think plenty of business and leisure travelers from Boise got excited about the prospect of getting to New York City so easily.

Why are airlines increasing routes to Boise? What’s driving the demand?

Boise still has the same energy, spirit and appeal that we always had. The difference now is that travelers are more determined than ever to get a break from their crowded cities. They come to Boise to experience a vibrant city that has room to breathe and also has easy access to the great outdoors. For people who are feeling a bit too hemmed in by their big-city environments, Boise is an oasis. And the airlines are tracking all this.

How is Boise Airport preparing?

Big things are underway at Boise Airport. To accommodate the long-term trends of visitor excitement about Boise, the airport is in the process of a multi-year capital expansion plan. Ultimately the airport will add a new public parking garage, rental car garage, employee parking garage and an additional concourse with at least six new gates. Design work is being completed on the majority of projects, and the airport intends to begin construction on the public parking garage this fall. A new service animal relief area and private space for nursing mothers are on the way, too.

Is there anything new in the city waiting for everyone?

Bogus Basin, the community-owned ski area just above town, is bursting with new trails for hikers and mountain bikers looking for a break from summertime heat.

How many small cities that you know of have a built-in, remote controlled wave feature in the local river? Boise does, and summer brings lots of expert boaters who want to practice kayak maneuvers on their own hometown wave. It also makes for excellent viewing for those who would rather stay dry. Either way, just around the corner from the surfing wave, the Esther Simplot Park continues to expand the access to freshwater ponds for stand up paddleboarding or just plain swimming.

Idaho’s wineries are scattered around the state, but plenty of them are in the Treasure Valley all around Boise. The Idaho Wine Commission has maps and guides online to help visitors enjoy Idaho’s surprising range of wines.


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