VANCOUVER – Premier Christy Clark welcomed Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic Airways to British Columbia for the airline’s inaugural flight from London, U.K. to Vancouver, B.C. that landed at YVR today.

“We are delighted that Virgin Atlantic has chosen to open up this new service route to Vancouver,” said Premier Clark. “We want YVR to be a top destination for passengers and cargo which means more jobs in the transportation and tourism sectors, and that’s good for B.C. families. This new service will bring approximately 40,000 people a year to B.C. It will be a boon to our economy and strengthen our already close ties to the U.K. market.”

The new flights add an additional 960 seats per week from the U.K. between May and October. Up to 40,000 passengers are expected to use the four-days-a-week service, which will create an estimated 35 jobs at YVR. According to the Vancouver International Airport Authority, spending by these additional passengers is expected to generate $21.5 million in tourism expenditure and create additional jobs in hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist attractions. In total, the new service will add an estimated $10.4 million to B.C.’s GDP.

“We’ve had lots of customers asking us to fly to Vancouver over the years, so we’re delighted to launch this new route in response to customer demand,” said Sir Richard Branson. “Vancouver is such a cosmopolitan city, full of culture, shopping and restaurants but it also offers stunning beaches and a range of outdoor adventure options on its doorstep. Vancouver’s tourism is thriving and we believe that we can drive demand even higher by providing great competition with our award winning product and service. The UK has the largest number of overseas visitors to British Columbia each year so it is a natural addition to our route network. This route launch further cements our position as the UK’s leading long haul leisure airline.”

Our government has partnered with Virgin Holidays, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism Vancouver and Tourism Whistler on a marketing campaign which has resulted in a new Virgin Holidays “Canada” travel brochure featuring a variety of B.C. tourism experiences, several consumer promotions and an “all things B.C.” training program delivered to over 100 Virgin Holidays stores in the U.K. The partnership is also providing a three-day familiarization trip for approximately 30 members of the U.K. travel media, who arrived on the inaugural flight, to learn more about B.C.

“We are thrilled with the launch of the new Virgin Atlantic service. It’s a route that we’ve had our eye on for some time and an important connection to our major overseas market,” noted Stephen Pearce, vice president, Leisure Travel and Digital Marketing at Tourism Vancouver. “The industry mobilized quickly to make this happen – with Tourism Vancouver, our downtown hotels and YVR working closely with the Province and Virgin Atlantic to support the inaugural event and to build demand for the route.”

“The launch of this new service by Virgin Atlantic demonstrates the appeal and awareness of B.C. as a world-class destination in the eyes of international corporations,” said Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. “B.C.’s tourism industry and ministry staff, here and in our London office, have worked for many years to bring Virgin Atlantic to Vancouver. The U.K. is one of our key tourism markets, and this new service is one more example of how we are marketing B.C. around the world and removing barriers to industry growth by improving air access to the province.”

“We’re delighted to be working closely with Virgin Holidays to sell extraordinary vacation experiences in Vancouver, the province, and right across Canada,” said Michele McKenzie, president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission. “CTC’s partnership has already enabled two-hundred Virgin Holidays’ travel agents to become certified advocates for Canada through our award winning Canada Specialist Program.”

Tourism is one of the key economic sectors identified in ‘Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan’. The Province’s new tourism strategy builds on the Jobs Plan, providing a framework for government and industry to work together to attract more visitors and create jobs for British Columbians. The strategy focuses on increasing the number of visitors by building on the global awareness generated by the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

On April 1, our government delivered on its promise to eliminate the aviation fuel tax for international flights, reducing costs for airlines, creating jobs, giving travellers more choice and supporting the ‘Canada Starts Here – The BC Jobs Plan’ goal of expanding markets.

Quick Facts:

* In 2010, the tourism sector employed 127,000 British Columbians, generated over $13.4 billion in revenue for tourism-related businesses and contributed over $1.2 billion to provincial government revenues.
* Total tourism wages and salaries were $4.4 billion in 2010, an increase of 37 per cent since 2000.
* YVR is Canada’s second-busiest airport and welcomed 17 million passengers in 2011, facilitated more than 296,000 aircraft takeoffs and landings, and handled 224,000 tonnes of cargo.