The announcement of WestJet’s daily air service to Brandon has thrown the door "wide open" for attracting more events to the city, according to the city’s tourism organization.
Erin Brown, recruitment officer with Brandon First, said national conferences, government meetings and top prospect sporting events are just a few of the opportunities they will be looking at.
"A lot of the conferences, they come in on a Friday, leave on a Sunday," Brown said. "And so because of the way the scheduling works, people don’t want to do the two-hour drive … but now that they can fly in, do the meetings and fly out, that opens us up to a lot more corporate and government types of events."
Airport upgrades on the way
The city is planning on making a number of short-term and long-term improvements to Brandon Municipal Airport to ensure it is ready to welcome WestJet and its passengers.
Prior to WestJet’s first flight on Sept. 3, there will be upgrades to air service equipment, airport parking lot and signage, city manager Scott Hildebrand said.
The immediate upgrades will cost approximately $110,000.
Longer-term redevelopment of the airport terminal is expected to cost approximately $1.6 million.
“While we work with our partners in the provincial and federal government to ensure we can fund the airport’s success, we need the community and all our partners to support us and ensure we have a long-term and successful partnership with WestJet,” Hildebrand said.
Terminal upgrades may include the installation of a baggage carrousel and revised arrivals hall; relocation of the secure passenger hold area (with washroom facilities) and security queue areas; construction of new updated ticketing counters; and an update of surfaces, furniture, lighting and mechanical systems.
According to the city, discussions will be held with WestJet first to ensure the proposed redevelopment plans meet the airline’s needs.
» Brandon Sun
WestJet Encore president Ferio Pugliese announced daily, non-stop air service between Brandon and Calgary will begin Sept. 3.
Shorter events that may only last for one or two nights may now be more attracted to the Wheat City.
"Some of the shorter turnaround sporting events, like top prospect games … where teams and spectators and scouts are in and out in a short period of time," said Lois MacDonald, manager of Brandon Riverbank Inc. "Certainly they would garner lots of attention and lots of media, but you just need to have air service for that quick turnaround … This announcement is really wonderful news. It really helps to open up a lot of new options."
Neil Thomson, general manager of the Keystone Centre, said air service will also help retain events, such as the Canadian National Arabian & Half-Arabian Championship Horse Show.
"That was always a key component for them, trying to get air service into the community," he said. "I think as well for people who have conferences here, they’ll be able to … fly in a major speaker. It’ll be a lot easier for them to accomplish that."
Thomson said they are investigating options, such as Grand Slam of Curling and other sporting events.
"Any improvement in the ability for people to come in and out (of Brandon) will be a benefit in the long run for … the Keystone Centre," he said.
The Western Canada Games and the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games are a few other options for the city to look into.
Bernie Chrisp is the chair of Manitoba Games Council, and also sits on the boards for Special Olympics Manitoba and Sport Manitoba. He said air service is a "real boon" to the community.
"It’s an opportunity to bring in all kinds of new events, sporting events, especially from Western Canada," he said. "It’s also an opportunity for Brandon University to bring in different national events."
Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba CEO Karen Oliver said air service will be a "tremendous asset" when it comes to flying in entertainers, judges and competitors for their events.
"I just can’t believe the degree of convenience that we’re going to have ... It’s kind of mind-boggling," Oliver said.
Attracting more events will have a positive economic impact on the city, says economic development director Sandy Trudel.
"It truly is new dollars into the community … often people think that those dollars are spent at hotels and that’s the end of the story," Trudel said.
"But we’ve done a lot of looking over the years …. and we have confirmed time and time again that those dollars are making their way into any variety of sectors of the local economy, hotel stays, restaurants, professional services, shopping, dry cleaning — really it’s the full gamut of services."