San Francisco is aiming to resume direct flights from Gatwick and Manchester in order to increase its presence in the UK.
Since Norwegian discontinued flights to Gatwick in December 2020 and Thomas Cook ceased operations in 2019, direct flights are only now offered from Heathrow.
United Airlines is running 21 flights to Heathrow each week this summer, Virgin Atlantic is running 14, and British Airways is running 12.
Although “nothing is set in stone,” Melissa Andretta, the director of international marketing and aviation development at San Francisco International Airport, said she was aiming for more flights and hoped to see direct flights return to Gatwick and Manchester within the next two years.
In London, she spoke with Travel Weekly and stated: “Part of the reason we are here is to try to get a flight back to Gatwick as we know it is a more convenient airport for many people and it gives more options to our customers.
“When Norwegian Airlines stopped flights to Gatwick it was sad for the airport as we like to offer a good mix of premium and low fare carriers. We are keeping our fingers crossed that flights to Gatwick could happen as soon as June 2023.
“We also used to have Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook operating seasonal flights to Manchester, but they were stopped prior to the pandemic.
“We would like to begin flying to Manchester again as we want more options for people to get to different areas in the UK, and we’d love to see that happen by 2024.”
Since the epidemic, visitors from the UK have stayed longer in San Francisco, with average stays rising from two to three to four or five days.
The UK is currently the top international source market for San Francisco in terms of visitors and spending due to the lengthening of stays and a delayed recovery in flights to China.
The city intends to surpass its 2019 UK tourist figures of 377,000 by increasing the number of UK visitors from 270,000 in 2022 to 353,000 in 2023, and finally to 425,000 in 2024.
Daniel Schwartz, senior director of international tourism development at San Francisco Travel, said: “The pandemic has certainly opened up more opportunities for UK tour operators to sell San Francisco.
“While occupancy rates aren’t back to pre-pandemic levels due to multiple factors including source market recovery and conventions business, we’re still seeing attractive rates for the leisure market and are working with the trade to capitalise on this opportunity and drive sales.
“Meanwhile, China – San Francisco’s largest international market pre-pandemic – remains essentially closed, and corporate travel has been slower to recover due to the proportion of technology companies which more aggressively adopted remote working policies.
“For these and other reasons, leisure travel has been able to benefit from an increase in availability and lower rates compared with 2019, contributing to increased length of stay and new, more affordable San Francisco itineraries.”
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