U.S. bor­der poli­cies could bring for­eign visi­tors to Canada: WestJet CEO

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - IAN BICKIS CAL­GARY —

The head of WestJet Airlines says he sees a pos­si­ble sil­ver lin­ing with the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing new U.S. bor­der poli­cies: a boost in in­ter­na­tional visi­tors to Canada.

CEO Gregg Saret­sky said while the air­line hasn’t yet seen any jump in in­ter­est to its Cana­dian des­ti­na­tions, he be­lieves the po­ten­tial is there given the rapidly chang­ing sit­u­a­tion in the United States.

“As bor­der is­sues and po­lit­i­cal is­sues con­tinue to in­ten­sify, I think there’s per­haps an op­por­tu­nity for Canada to ben­e­fit from in­creas­ing for­eign tourist ar­rivals,” he said Tues­day on an earn­ings con­fer­ence call. “We are watch­ing with in­ter­est what’s go­ing on with the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal land­scape. We’re work­ing with the U.S. cus­toms and bor­der pa­trol agency to en­sure that we’re fol­low­ing laws as we need to, but ob­vi­ously that sit­u­a­tion is very fluid and from day to day there’s pro­nounce­ments and lots of back and forth.”

Bob Cum­mings, WestJet’s ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent com­mer­cial, said the com­pany hasn’t seen a de­cline in visi­tors to the U.S. on its routes.

Nearly two weeks ago, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ban­ning peo­ple from seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries from trav­el­ling to Amer­ica. The or­der has led to con­fu­sion and anger among some with travel doc­u­men­ta­tion from those na­tions.

A fed­eral judge has since tem­po­rar­ily barred the U.S. gov­ern­ment from en­forc­ing the ban, but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is ap­peal­ing the rul­ing.

Closer to home, Saret­sky said WestJet is see­ing the be­gin­ning of a turn­around in Al­berta, a prov­ince where 40 per cent of the air­line’s flights ar­rive and/or de­part.

“It is clear that Al­berta has been in a mas­sive re­ces­sion two years in a row,” said Saret­sky.

“As Al­berta crawls out of its hole, we fully ex­pect — and we are see­ing that now — signs of new life, stronger de­mand.”

The Al­berta downturn, as well as ris­ing costs across op­er­a­tions, con­trib­uted to a 19.6 per cent drop in prof­its from 2015.

The Cal­gary-based com­pany’s net in­come for the 12 months end­ing Dec. 31 was $295.5 mil­lion, or $2.45 per di­luted share. That was down from $367.5 mil­lion or $2.92 per share in 2015, a record for WestJet.

WestJet’s an­nual revenue in­creased 2.32 per cent to $4.12 bil­lion and fourth-quar­ter revenue was up 6.2 per cent to $1.02 bil­lion.

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

WestJet CEO Gregg Saret­sky ex­pects to see a rise in U.S. travel to Canada.

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