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New International Flights Coming To SAN Will Boost Tourism Business

Four more international airlines are taking San Diego under their wings, beginning seasonal, nonstop flights to San Diego International Airport from Canada and Europe this spring and summer.

Joe Terzi is CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority.

British Airways and Japan Airlines already offer nonstop service from London Heathrow Airport and Tokyo seven days a week, but Germany’s Condor Airlines; Switzerland’s Edelweiss, a Lufthansa group carrier; and Canada’s Air Canada Rouge and WestJet are adding flights to SAN.

San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi said this is a big win for San Diego’s tourism industry that will pump up the region’s $10.4B annual tourism economy. Every new flight into SAN, international or domestic, boosts San Diego hotel occupancy and sales at restaurants and retailers throughout the San Diego region, he said.

According to Tourism Authority statistics, nearly 35 million tourists visit San Diego every year, which provides 184,000 jobs for San Diegans and generates $267M in hotel tax and $763M in sales tax revenue for city coffers.

RAR Hospitality CEO Robert Rauch

“This is a huge deal,” RAR Hospitality CEO and local hotelier Bob Rauch said.

Assuming visitors flying into SAN will stay in a hotel, and most do, he said every flight landing at SAN translates to about 700 room nights per day. Therefore, a flight landing 365 days a year would provide 200,000 room nights, or add 1% hotel occupancy, Rauch estimated. At the average rate of $160/night, this adds up to $32M annually.

“Every full plane with daily service from Asia or Europe can add a percentage of occupancy to the already strong 77% occupancy we have,” he said. 

San Diego should be an 80% occupancy market, like New York and San Francisco, Rauch said.

“This will drive average rates up,” he said. “The long-term prognosis (for San Diego hotels) is excellent, especially when we finally get direct service from the fastest-growing international market in the world — China.”


Beginning June 9, Edelweiss will offer flights on a 314-seat Airbus from Zurich two days weekly, on Mondays and Fridays.

“Swiss travelers like to stay longer and spend more money during their time on vacation than visitors from other countries,” Edelweiss CEO Bernd Bauer said in a press release. “Our flights will bring approximately 15,000 visitors to San Diego per year, creating an economic impact of around $50M.”

Condor will begin providing service from Frankfurt to SAN on a 224-seat aircraft in May on Mondays and Thursdays. Jens Boyd, director of long-haul and revenue management for Thomas Cook Group Airlines, said Condor’s service is a two-way connection, providing Europeans direct service to San Diego, but also offering San Diegans direct flights to Frankfurt and one-stop access to other European destinations, including Paris, Vienna, Prague, Venice, Berlin, Rome, Zagreb and beyond.

Additionally, Air Canada Rouge recently added a second daily Vancouver flight, augmenting its daily service to Toronto. WestJet will provide seasonal service mid-June to mid-October, three times weekly from Vancouver, and will increase its year-round service to Calgary from four to five times weekly for the summer months.

Terzi said Alaska Air has been increasing its nonstop domestic service into SAN and plans to begin daily nonstop service to Mexico City as soon as slots in Mexico City are obtained. Negotiations also are underway with several Chinese airlines to provide service from Chinese cities to San Diego within the next few years.

Entrance to the Cross-Border Xpress Terminal bridge in Otay Mesa

Terzi said increasing international flights to San Diego is a top priority for the Tourism Authority, which is working with the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and San Diego County Regional Airport Authority to promote San Diego internationally as a destination and secure more direct international flights into SAN. He said increasing air access to San Diego not only brings more tourists to the region, but also creates greater meeting capacity for the convention center, increases business travel and helps to grow the region’s corporate base, particularly the innovation economy and health and wellness sector.

Terzi is working with the region’s healthcare institutions and other stakeholders to create a medical tourism program in San Diego.

“We have the infrastructure to develop a medical tourism industry, and we’re the premier center for healthcare on the West Coast, but it's not well-known, so we need to build name recognition,” he said.

Terzi said getting international carriers to add direct service is the San Diego tourism industry's greatest challenge. He said international carriers view San Diego as somewhat of an outlier compared to Los Angeles and San Francisco airports, which are international hubs. While 500,000 international seats are available to SAN annually, LAX has 12 million and SFO 7 million, he said.

The 360-foot pedestrian bridge that provides travelers two-way access to Tijuana International Airport's Cross-Border Xpress Terminal and San Diego at Otay Mesa

Besides international flights into SAN, international carriers serving Tijuana International Airport also bring international travelers to San Diego, Terzi said. He said passengers can access transportation into Downtown San Diego via the new Cross-Border Xpress terminal. CBX, which spans the U.S.-Mexico border at Otay Mesa, provides travelers direct access to the Tijuana airport. Currently, only private transportation is available from CBX into downtown San Diego, but when visitor traffic from Tijuana reaches a certain level, he said San Diego will provide public transit.

Mexican airlines provide service to Tijuana from 34 Mexican cities. Additionally, AeroMexico provides service to Tijuana from Shaghai through Mexico City.