Colombia’s flagship airline, Avianca, will mark its return to the Puerto Rico market after a 12-year absence with a direct route between San Juan and Bogotá starting July 17, company and government officials confirmed Tuesday.
The carrier will initially connect Luis Muñoz Marín’s International Airport and Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport three times a week, with plans to launch more flights to other Colombian cities in the future, said Danilo Correa, commercial director for Avianca’s Mexico, Central America and Caribbean division, during a news conference held at La Fortaleza.
“San Juan is well known for its tourist attractions, as well as for being a major industrial, commercial and cultural hub,” Correa said. “We’re confident that our passengers will welcome this new option in Avianca’s route network.”
“Meanwhile, we offer to Puerto Rico access to destinations with great tourist and business potential, starting with Bogotá, one of the cities in Latin America with the most economic and social development,” the Colombian executive noted.
With its arrival, Avianca will create 160 new jobs and generate an economic impact of between $150 million and $180 million a year, Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla said.
To kick off the new service, Avianca will offer a special $550 round-trip fare, which represents a significant savings for the trip’s average $800 cost. Furthermore, the direct route will eliminate the need to connect either in Miami, New York or Panamá — where most connections between San Juan and Bogotá take place — cutting back on the time it takes to travel to the South American capital city.
Once in Bogotá, passengers can connect to most major South American cities Avianca serves, which García-Padilla said responds to the current administration’s strategy to “establish tourist exchanges with Brazil, Chile and other countries in Latin America.”
Avianca is the first Latin American airline to enter Puerto Rico in more than a decade. Its decision to return was based on several factors, Correa said.
“We felt we had the government’s support, because an airline cannot enter a market without that. Avianca today is fundamentally superior in terms of connectivity thanks to the StarAlliance to which we belong, which makes the business opportunity viable, and thirdly, a world-class airline such as Avianca cannot exclude a world-class destination such as San Juan from its network.”Avianca was accepted as an official member of the Star Alliance in June 2012.
Avianca pulled out of the Puerto Rico market in 2001 for several reasons, including a lack of government support at the time and its own internal corporate issues, he noted.
To help Avianca get started in the San Juan market, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company has agreed to provide $300,000 in incentives for advertising and other investments related to getting them set up at the airport.
There are an estimated 12,000 Colombian nationals living in Puerto Rico and a total of 25,000 island residents who travel to Bogotá each year on airlines currently offering connecting services, said Alejandro Cobos, Consul General of Colombia in Puerto Rico.