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Loss of direct flights ‘going to hurt us,’ Sask. businesses and researchers say

Members of Saskatchewan’s business and scientific communities are worrying about how the loss of Air Canada’s direct flights between Saskatoon and Regina to Calgary will affect the province.

“We do a lot in Alberta and Calgary is a main hub for us,” Jocelyn Lemaire, customer service representative at Black Fox Distillery, said.

“And losing (Calgary) as a travel connection, that’s going to hurt us not just with sales, but also with visitors coming to the farm.”

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The loss of the direct routes next week will require anyone wanting to travel to Regina or Saskatoon from Calgary to connect through Vancouver, which will cost several hundred dollars more and take many more hours. And while WestJet does offer several direct flights every day, those routes also typically cost several hundred dollars more than the Air Canada direct flights do.

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Lemaire, who works at the distillery outside of Saskatoon, and others told Global News the route change could mean Saskatchewan becomes too expensive and too time-consuming for tourists, businesses and researchers to visit.

“We’re a small company,” Lemaire said. “We have budgets probably just like every other business in Saskatchewan. That (increase is) significant when you talk of having to go there every three weeks or every month.”

Gianluigi Botton, science director of the Canadian Light Source, said he is worried the research hub could also be affected. The Light Source hosts, he said, “hundreds and hundreds” of researchers every year from around 40 countries. Many use the synchrotron, a device that emits light much brighter than the sun.

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“If it’s more difficult to travel to Saskatoon,” he said, “all things being equal, (researchers) might decide to travel to European synchrotron or a synchrotron in the U.S.”

Botton pointed out that Air Canada has far more flights from locations around the world than WestJet does, which makes connecting through to Regina and Saskatoon easier.

Switching airlines, he said, and doing so after a long journey, isn’t practical.

“I think we are known as the city that punches above our weight. Something like this can really denigrate our reputation, and that’s unfortunate,” Kirby Wirchenko, the TCU Place director of events and community engagement, told Global News.

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He said staff have already started fielding calls from clients concerned about potential events.

He told Global News hosting conferences accounts for the majority of TCU Place’s business – and said hundreds of people visiting the city for just such a conference boosts the surrounding economy, in hotel and restaurant visits.

COVID-19 already resulted in fewer bookings, Wirchenko said.

“With the airline issue coming in on top of other issues, it just means we might not even be selected at all for those conferences.”

Jason Aebig, Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce CEO, said that “if you are a conference or large group meeting organizer, of course you’re trying to find the most cost-effective and efficient way to get your delegates to and from the event.”

Aebig said he had no idea Air Canada was cancelling the routes and that a large portion of the province’s business community travels to Calgary frequently.

“There’s a bit of a standing joke in the business community that if you can’t get a meeting with someone in Saskatoon, you’ll absolutely meet them at the gate at the Calgary airport flying home.”

And while he said virtual meetings can fill part of the gap, nothing replaces face-to-face interactions.

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He said the chamber will push Air Canada to not cancel the routes.

“We are feeling as though this is an issue that is significant enough that it cannot go away. And we will continue to apply sustained pressure to Air Canada to revisit its decision,” he said.

But he admitted that the chamber, business owners and even provincial and federal ministers have little recourse.

“It just seems like we’re getting dropped off,” Lemaire said.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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