Photo Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
After completely halting international travel in March 2020 due to COVID-19, San Diego International Airport has resumed nearly 10 foreign routes since August 2020.

Photo Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority After completely halting international travel in March 2020 due to COVID-19, San Diego International Airport has resumed nearly 10 foreign routes since August 2020.

Just last week, the Biden administration announced it would lift travel bans for fully vaccinated international travelers starting in November. This includes visitors from the U.K. and the EU, according to reports.

This is good news for San Diego International Airport, said Sabrina LoPiccolo, senior communications specialist at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. The independent agency, with an operating budget of $263 million in fiscal year 2020, manages the day-to-day operations of the Airport.

The economic impact of international flights to the region is $432 million, she said. With this data in mind, nearly 10 international flights out of San Diego International Airport (SAN) have been announced and confirmed since August 2020, after completely halting foreign travel due to COVID-19, LoPiccolo added.

Facilitate Business, Leisure Travel

“Opening the border to fully vaccinated travelers is welcome news for the airline industry and San Diego International Airport,” she said. “We know the economic impact of international flights is $432 million to our region. Opening the border will facilitate business and leisure travel and strengthen our ability to rebuild and gain new international air service.”

So far, Air Canada resumed flights to Vancouver, BC, CA, as of August 2021; Alaska Airlines resumed flights to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as of August 2020, flights to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, as of November 2020, and flights to Cancun, Mexico, as of June 2020; British Airways will resume flights to London-Heathrow, England, UK, in October 2021; Japan Airlines to Tokyo-Narita, Japan, as of March 2021; Southwest Airlines to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, as of March 2021; and WestJet to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, beginning October 2021.

Swoop Airlines will also begin offering flights to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, as of October.

Expanding International Market

To LoPiccolo’s point, the ease in international restrictions can mean more leisure travel from foreign travelers. But, it can also signify an increase in exports and foreign direct investment, according to Lucas Coleman, senior manager at World Trade Center San Diego.

World Trade Center San Diego (WTCSD) is the international affiliate of the San Diego Regional EDC. The organization serves to drive a regional trade and investment strategy focused on expanding international market access for San Diego companies, attracting foreign investment into high growth industries and connecting the region to global markets.

As such, World Trade Center San Diego supports San Diego International Airport by providing information relating to business travel, in particular, filling up business class on key international routes, said Coleman.

“EDC and WTCSD work with the business community and our partners at SAN to ensure that a strong business case can be made for the international routes our region pursues - in terms of exports, strategic partnerships and foreign investment trends,” he said. “Data has long shown that companies mixing domestic sales with some exporting tend to be stronger and more resilient in the face of economic downturns. The recent return of British Airways and Japan Airlines indicate that, as the region begins recovery, businesses may be looking to once again conduct site visits, build overseas relationships and open up new revenue streams in markets with deep ties to San Diego. We remain committed to working with the airport to expand air service to the key metros around the world.”

Foreign Investment

Specifically, data from 2015 through 2020 indicates that Western Europe - namely the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands - comprise a significant portion of the foreign investment coming into the region, Coleman added.

San Diego-based life sciences firms captured nearly three quarters of the estimated $3 billion in foreign investment injected into the regional economy last year, he said. Approximately 94% of all foreign investments came in the form of mergers and acquisitions.

“It is no surprise then that the largest investors by growth rate are more mature markets like the United Kingdom and Switzerland,” Coleman said. “It is important that we are relaying that kind of information to our institutional partners like the airport.”

Top Five Markets

Julie Coker, president and CEO of the San Diego Tourism Authority, said the announcement by the Biden administration is a great opportunity for the County.

“According to data from 2019, our top five markets in terms of visitors are Mexico, Canada, U.K., China and Germany.” she said. “In terms of visitor spending, Mexico is first, followed by Germany and the U.K. As we grow in life sciences, innovation and technology, all these industries play a role in our international business. To have them be able to come back with less restrictions is great for our economy.”

This is also a bright spot in terms of the San Diego Convention Center, Coker added, stating in fiscal year 2019, most shows had over 25% international attendance.

San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
FOUNDED: 2003
PRESIDENT/CEO: Kimberly Becker
HEADQUARTERS: Downtown
BUSINESS: Agency that manages the day-to-day operations of San Diego International Airport.
OPERATING BUDGET: $293.7M in 2019, $263M FY 2020
EMPLOYEES: 404
WEBSITE: www.san.org
NOTABLE: In 2019, San Diego International Airport served a record 25.2M passengers.
CONTACT: 619-400-2400