Ed Fuller, president and CEO of Orange County Visitors Association (OCVA) of California, has declared Orange County’s unstinting support for Open Skies while visiting the United Arab Emirates recently.
Fuller recently visited the Gulf to encourage tourism and hospitality revenue to Orange County, California, though the OCVA has had an office in Dubai since April 2014.
He said: “Orange County, California is the first tourism organization 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.”
Open Skies prohibit countries from regulating routes and capacity amongst each other’s carriers, and ensure fair and equal opportunity to compete in other nations’ air space and markets. The U.S. currently has agreements with over 100 countries.
The OCVA has been striving to increase Gulf tourists to ‘the OC’, as it’s known locally, by offering promotions and marketing campaigns in the region, and Fuller says that southern California has seen a boost in GCC tourists as a result.
“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. 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”, says Fuller.
But Fuller didn’t just stick to promotional statements – he went so far as to take sides, saying: “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.
“The agreements the Big Three want revisited are those with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates—collectively home to Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways.
Fuller continues: “We all want the US carriers to succeed financially. Air travel is far too integral a part of our economy to think about the alternative. Open Skies agreements have benefitted our industry and consumers as well as communities around the world for more than 30 years now.
The US airlines’ complaint the three major Gulf carriers have received $42 billion in subsidies from their governments and that these subsidies violate the Open Skies agreements with those countries.
The U.S. saw 74 million tourists enter their borders in 2014, and spending US $181 billion. Travel and tourism generates $2.1 trillion annually for the US economy and supports one out of every nine US jobs.
The OCVA isn’t the only high profile organisation to defend the Gulf carriers – New York-based low cost airline Jet Blue recently said in a statement to the U.S. Secretaries of State, Commerce and Transportation, that its position was that Open Skies agreements must be defended at all costs and that the Big Three were trying to limit competition by attempting to force the U.S. to play favourites.
Concluding his statements, Fuller said: “Orange County California supports the continuation of Open Skies. 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.”