Melbourne $89

JENI FAULKNER

COFFS HARBOUR is a popular tourist destination for many, and from Saturday we will be welcoming a different kind of traveller ? the 'Mexicans'.

Cut-price carrier Virgin Blue will fly direct from Melbourne to Coffs Harbour each Saturday from this weekend, and Coffs Coast marketing manager, Rob Cleary, expects tourism to receive a big boost from the link.

"In the past, visitors to the Coffs Coast have been predominately from New South Wales, about 70 per cent," Mr Cleary said.

"We are expecting to create an increase in the Victorian market this week which is great news for the area," he said.

On the inaugural flight, the media will travel up to Coffs Harbour and Mr Cleary said after spending three days here they would then return to Victoria and promote our region.

"We are hoping to tap into the Melbourne market for conferences and also the leisure market."

Mr Cleary said if the flights from Victoria proved popular there was also a chance of an additional service that could link with direct flights to Queensland.

"Coffs Harbour is really expanding its market," Mr Cleary said.

"I think the reason we have jumped is because we have had consistent promotion of the Coffs Coast. Previously we were known as the Banana Republic, the Holiday Coast and the Banana Coast," he said.

Since 1999 the 'Coffs Coast' has been the region's main marketing ploy and over time this consistency has taken on destination, depth and character.

Mr Cleary said in the Roy Morgan Research Holiday Tracking Survey for the 12-month period ending March, 2004, Coffs Harbour ranked fourth, one up from the previous year.

"Number one is Sydney, two Byron Bay, three the Blue Mountains and then Coffs Harbour," Mr Cleary said.

"In terms of percentages we have gone from 12.9 per cent to 14.3 per cent awareness within 12 months, so imagine what will happen when we tap into Victoria?"

Tourism and the conference market are expected to be the big winners with the new 144-seat Boeing 737 jets.

The public relations manager for Virgin Blue, Amanda Bolger, said after the introduction of the direct weekly service, the next step could be two weekly flights.

"We do not have a time frame as to whether or not we would include more flights to Melbourne, but the people of Coffs Harbour are pro-active with our jet services so we will have to wait and see," Ms Bolger said.

But either way the new flights are a win for both tourism areas and Ms Bolger said even though Virgin Blue had included direct flights to Ballina recently, these flights had not jeopardised tourists visiting the Coffs Coast.

"There is enough to go around and the flight to Ballina just extended the size of the pie so people could fly direct," she said.

Over the summer holiday period from December 18 to January 22, Virgin Blue will be extending direct flights from Coffs Harbour to Sydney.

There will be an extra morning flight added to the bill which means early morning departures to and from Sydney and more chances to grab low airfares.



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