Ed Fuller, president and CEO of Orange County Visitors Association (OCVA) of California, has declared Orange County’s support for Open Skies while visiting the UAE.
The visit was made as part of a promotional push to attract increased visitors from the UAE and surrounding Gulf States to Orange County, California, with the declaration echoing Fuller’s previously published support for Open Skies on the Forbes.com website, where he is a regular expert contributor for matters concerning global tourism, hospitality and business.
Fuller said Orange County California is the first tourism organisation from the U.S.A. “to reach out and have a permanent presence in the Middle East, and so the Open Skies debate is of natural concern and interest to Orange County”.
“I feel it important to make it categorically clear that Open Skies benefits US consumers enormously with expanded options for international travel while facilitating growth for the US economy and job creation,” he added.
Orange County California opened its promotional Middle East office in Dubai in April 2014, and since then has been rolling out a number of holiday packages and promotions specifically created for Middle East travellers.
As a result the awareness and number of Gulf State visitors to the Southern California destination has been rising significantly.
“Orange County is just a 45 minute drive south from Los Angeles airport where Emirates, Saudi Arabia Airlines, and Etihad Airways each fly directly from their Middle Eastern hubs,” Fuller continued.
“Emirates and Etihad flight crews choose to stay at Orange County hotels during lay-overs and Qatar Airways also provides convenient connection to Orange County’s own John Wayne Airport via its US destinations.
“With the launch of these flights and our Middle Eastern promotional activities we have seen considerable increases in visitor numbers and visitor spend within the OC.”
A record 74 million foreign visitors entered the United States in 2014, bringing with them a record spend of US $181 billion. Travel generates $2.1 trillion annually for the US economy and supports one out of every nine US jobs.
“The Big Three US airlines want our government to break a number of Open Skies agreements in order to keep certain carriers from expanding in US markets.” Fuller asserted.
Open Skies agreements are essentially free trade for air travel, prohibiting countries from regulating routes and capacity among each other’s carriers.
“Even if the three Gulf carriers are being subsidised, all three of our major US airlines received subsidies in their fledging years almost 100 years ago, most of which were in the form of US mail contracts,” he explained.
Later on, these same US carriers received major support in the wake of 9/11 and when economic times were tough for them, they received advantages in the form of lenient bankruptcy laws.
Fuller said “we all want the US carriers to succeed financially”.
“Orange County supports a policy that allows for increased flights to and from Southern California by all carriers, including the Gulf carriers of Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways.
“The OC believes that on this matter, the US carriers have got it wrong.”