The carrier will fly to both Honolulu and Maui, serving both destinations with one daily round-trip flight from its main hub in San Francisco, according to a statement issued by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA).
"Virgin America's decision to add San Francisco to Honolulu/Maui as a new route to their portfolio is a fantastic move," says Evan Croner, managing partner for RNE Partners, a Las Vegas-based travel agency. "Hawaii is a popular destination for Californians and now there is an affordable alternative to Cabo or other popular Mexico destinations."
According to the HTA, beginning November 2, Virgin America will fly new Airbus 320 aircraft with 149 seats on daily non-stop service between San Francisco and Honolulu and anticipates launching direct service from San Francisco to Kahului, Maui on December 3.
"Adding a more budget conscious airline to the destination will boost Hawaiian tourism to those who possibly couldn't afford it before," says Croner. "JetBlue (Airways) and Southwest (Airlines) may want to get in on this action if all goes well."
The new flights are expected to increase access to the Hawaiian Islands from both its core U.S. West and U.S. East markets through Virgin America's extensive nationwide flight network, said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, in a written statement.
“The addition of Virgin America to the Hawaii market is great for consumers and agents-alike," says Mitch Toren, chief vacation engineer for TripGuy Travel, which is based in Holland, PA. "Competition should decrease rates, increase accessibility from various departure locations and may encourage other airlines to look at the market for possible expansion.”
Uchiyama also noted that the HTA estimates that flights will generate $138.6 million in visitor spending and $14.8 million in tax revenue for the state on an annual basis.
Patti Lehman of The Travel Agent Inc. in Carmel, IN told Travel Agent that the move could inspire Richard Branson, partial owner of Virgin America, to look into developing a resort on the Hawaiian Islands.
"I think it is wonderful that Sir Branson is expanding his airline to Hawaii," says Lehman. "I think it may mean that more visitors from the U.K./Europe will have better connections with JetBlue/Virgin to experience Hawaii and that perhaps Sir Branson will look at adding a resort in the islands."
By year end 2015, scheduled airlift to Hawaii is expected to top 11.8 million seats, an increase of six percent over last year, said Uchiyama.
"I haven't flown it, but I do think that Virgin as a brand targets and appeals to the younger, Millennial demographic, with their array of onboard entertainment options and their cheeky marketing strategies," says Miriam Geiser, an advisor with MoonRings, a Chicago-based, boutique travel agency. "And with new hotels like Andaz Maui targeting the same demographic, it seems to be a good fit."