A new airline will soon begin serving Myrtle Beach, offering direct service to the largest market in Canada.
Airport officials announced Monday that WestJet Airlines will launch non-stop service between Toronto and Myrtle Beach May 2.
The airline's twice-weekly flights will be on Thursdays and Sundays. Tickets for the service including introductory fares will be available for purchase February 11.
"The Chamber has been pursuing WestJet for ten years" said Brad Dean, President and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "This is not just another airline," Dean added.
"Myrtle Beach is one of the most popular destinations for Canadian vacationers, with more than 90 kilomet
s of picturesque beaches, world-class golf and warm southern hospitality," said Chris Avery, WestJet Vice-President, Network Planning, Alliances and Corporate Development.
WestJet has been called Canada's version of Southwest Airlines; a stable, low-cost carrier that's actually profitable.
Chamber of Commerce officials say WestJet is the 9th largest carrier in North America, with a fleet of more than one hundred 737s.
With direct flights to Toronto, officials say Myrtle Beach can compete more effectively with golf destinations like Arizona, Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
"Until now, we did not have competitive air access as those destinations have had and that's a big issue for us. Consumers are more conscious of their time and discretionary dollars than ever, so now we can compete on an equal footprint," said Bill Golden, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday president.
Golden says more than 18 percent of Canadians play golf, the highest percentage of any country in the world.
Of course, Canadians have been coming to the Grand Strand for years, but mostly by car.
"Now, we open up the footprint for golfers who maybe didn't want to take that drive in the past or maybe wanted to come down for a longer weekend," Golden said.
2012 was a dismal year for Myrtle Beach International Airport, with passenger numbers down nearly 140,000 from the year before.
Officials say adding WestJet to the mix helps show the need for the new airport terminal set to open this spring, and it bodes well for attracting more new airlines to Myrtle Beach.
"Not just for Canadian airline service, but domestic U.S. service," said Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce president Brad Dean. "WestJet is an exceptional carrier. If they can succeed here at the Myrtle Beach International Airport, who couldn't we recruit here?"
The WestJet service is on top of the 52,000 additional seats the airport announced last week that would be added this spring, so airport officials say 2013 is shaping up to be a stronger year.