Flying to Sydney not plane sailing

FOR Andrew Crewe the math is simple: the loss of the Jetstar service to Hervey Bay Airport means fewer people are coming to the Fraser Coast.

The owner of The Esplanade hotel Delfinos Bay Resort has noticed his bookings slowly dwindling since Jetstar pulled off the Sydney to Hervey Bay route three months ago.

And he has attributed it to less airline seats being available.

“People are finding it hard to get on Virgin Blue flights. It’s pretty difficult,” he said.

The future of Bay flights to Sydney looks set to remain a mystery too, with first Virgin Blue and now Qantas standing strong against committing to any increase in services.

A Qantas Link spokesperson yesterday said the airline had been continuing to add capacity with larger aircraft since it began connecting Coast residents to Sydney via Brisbane in October 2006.

Capacity had more than doubled, said the spokesperson, who added that it would continue to increase as demand grew especially during peak times.

This Christmas there would be more Qantas Link flights available as well as larger planes.

Earlier this week Virgin Blue said it was constantly monitoring all of its markets but would not be specific about plans for Hervey Bay.

The comments have done nothing to allay Mr Crewe’s fear Virgin Blue will eventually ditch Fraser Coast flights in favour of a developing Bundaberg Airport, a move the airline says it is not considering.

Mr Crewe admits his decline in business since July 31 has not been dramatic but says his customers are now mainly walk-ins rather than mature-aged and business guests flying from Melbourne and Sydney.

It is not the hard numbers that concern Mr Crewe but the flow-on effect from the lack of visitors spreading the word about their time in the Bay: “The actual figures we’ve lost out on I’m sure will be more in the long-term.

“The $105 Virgin Blue flights, yes they are still there, but they’re sold out. You have to book four months in advance.”

Mr Crewe concedes the cost of flights has affected business, not because of a jump in ticket prices but due to no longer having a budget airline servicing the region.

Virgin Blue is fairly standard. I don’t think they’ve tried to capitalise on the fact they’re the only supplier. They’ve tried to do the right thing.”

Mr Crewe, who also believes an over-crowded accommodation market is having an affect on high vacancies, has his eye on the future, hopeful the Bay’s tourism potential grows.

Despite the loss of business for some local companies the airport visitor information centre is going well. Fraser Coast councillor Anne Nioa says visitor numbers to the centre are up 60 per cent on last year, to September 2009, thanks to longer hours and a more central location.

“Even with the departure of Jetstar, the new venture is performing well above expectations,” says Ms Nioa.

FLIGHT PRICE CHECK

The Chronicle selected three dates at random to compare the cheapest one-way flights available with Virgin Blue and Qantas from Hervey Bay Airport to Sydney Airport. All prices were taken from the airlines’ own websites and all within five minutes yesterday morning.

Thursday, November 12

Virgin Blue: $190 direct

Qantas: $205 via Brisbane

Tuesday, January 12

Virgin Blue: $160 direct

Qantas: $149 with Jetstar servicing from Brisbane. $155 Qantas entire way

Wednesday, May 12

Virgin Blue: $105 direct

Qantas: $155 via Brisbane

Related: Virgin's view



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