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‘It’s going to be a hit for us for sure’: Air Canada’s cancelled flights to Saskatoon costs local businesses

The cancellation of Air Canada flights between Saskatchewan’s two largest cities and Calgary in December has cost Saskatoon businesses dollars.

According to Discover Saskatoon, two major business events scheduled to take place in Bridge City have already been canceled due to a lack of connectivity.

“Those two deals alone had a loss of approximately $300,000 and had an economic impact on the community. Additionally, we definitely see a broader economic impact,” said Executive Director Steph Clovechok.

She says the perception that Saskatoon is difficult to access could also jeopardize events like the Junos, which were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“We have a few deals in the pipeline that are as important as events like the Junos that will showcase our culture, music and hosting capacity, and that’s definitely always going to be a conversation,” Clovechok said.

Joan Fior, director of sales at TCU Place, says people don’t have to fly to Calgary to get to Saskatoon, but to Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal.

She says the convention center, which books events up to five years into the future, will find it more difficult as it takes people more time and money to get into the city.

“It’s a really important segment for our business,” Fior said.

“We usually organize eight to ten large national congresses per year and one to two international ones. So if we don’t have this deal, yes, it’s sure to be a hit with us.”

Jason Aebig, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, says there is a schism of people who don’t come to Saskatoon for meetings.

“The impact of that resulting from spending on our taxis and our local shops and restaurants and pubs or tourist attractions, not to mention lost sales tax and wages paid for by off-spending in our hospitality industry,” he said.

“[You] Start appreciating the magnitude of a decision like this that literally impacts the local economy.”

While businesses aren’t feeling the impact right now, Aebig says Saskatoon restaurants likely will be over the long term.

“In the absence of a steady stream of meeting or conference business, they will see the impact on their bottom line at the end of the year,” he said.

The dean of the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business, Keith Willoughby, says hotels like the Holiday Inn Express & Suites and the Staybridge Suites built on the U of S campus could also potentially be affected.

“I was chatting with one of my fellow deans and he mentioned that they brought a guest speaker for one of their big seminars and the guest speaker, being from eastern Canada, commented on how difficult it was for him to get here,” he said .

“That’s small. This is just an incident but I think it indicates a bigger dilemma for travelers here that if the capacity isn’t there there will be an immediate impact.”

A statement from Air Canada said Saskatoon and the province will continue to have access to the airline’s vast domestic, U.S. and international network within existing routes.

“There is no market outside of Calgary that is not well served by our Vancouver and Toronto hubs,” the statement said.

“In addition, Air Canada’s non-stop flights between SK and Montreal this summer will provide another option for travel and global connectivity.”

Willoughby says in the meantime, other airlines like WestJet could soften the financial hit on businesses.

“There is talk of increasing the number of flights up to nine per day and if they can increase their capacity it could fill the void left after Air Canada left,” he said.

“Until then, we are moving in uncertain territory.”

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