It’s Thanksgiving in America this week and Daytona Beach has a lot to be thankful for.
Yesterday (Nov. 20), Sunwing flew 120 Canadian travel agents and select media to the coastal Florida destination on a one-day FAM to mark the launch of its new direct service from Toronto starting in January 2019.
“We are very thankful that this is happening,” an elated Heather Post, a Volusia County Councilwoman, told more than 20 writers, bloggers and photographers at a ribbon cutting ceremony in Daytona Beach International Airport shortly after the flight was welcomed with a traditional water cannon salute on the tarmac.
Speaking to media at the ceremony, Andrew Dawson, chief operating officer at Sunwing Travel Group, addressed the new direct service from Toronto, which will start this upcoming January 28th with flights on Mondays and Thursdays.
“We’re very proud at Sunwing to bring the international back into [Dayton Beach’s] international airport,” Dawson told reporters. “There’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes that goes into making something like this work.”
The upcoming twice-weekly service will make Sunwing the only Canadian airline to offer direct international flights to Daytona Beach.
“There is so much going on in Daytona Beach,” Kate Holcomb, director of communications for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told PAX, listing off a variety of Daytona must-sees, such as the region’s iconic 23-mile white sandy beach, its kayaking, boating and golfing scenes, its 60-plus local festivals and the world-famous Daytona International Speedway.
Canada is Daytona Beach’s top international market, followed by the U.K. and Germany, Holcomb said.
Holcomb was also quick to demystify the notion that Daytona Beach is strictly a hot spot for college students on spring break.
“We haven’t had a major college spring break since the early ’90s,” Holcomb told PAX, noting that while visitors to the area do still include students (there’s five universities nearby), Daytona Beach equally appeals to families on multi-generational vacations.
Daytona Beach has seen a variety of upgrades to its tourism sector, including a $400 million reimagining of the Daytona International Speedway (home to NASCAR’s prestigious Daytona 500) and hotel advancements, such as the newly-opened boutique Streamline Hotel and the recently-renovated Shores Resort & Spa, and the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach, which opened its doors last May.
PAX had an opportunity to tour Daytona’s new Hard Rock, which features 200 oceanfront rooms, rock n’ roll memorabilia (a guitar signed by the late Tom Petty, being one) and stand-out amenities, such as its “Sound of Your Stay” program, which lets guests reserve one of 20 Fender guitars (which comes with Nixon headphones and a Fender Mustang floor amplifier) and create their own pop-up studio.
Guests also receive their own soundtrack, curated for them by the hotel, to download free of charge.
“I think a lot of people have a perception of Daytona Beach as being just about race cars, bikes and spring breaks. We have that, except when people get off the plane, they’ll see how everything is bigger than life. This hotel is part of that,” Susan Keaveney, director of marketing at Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach, told PAX.
Alfredo Gonzalez of the Daytona Beach International Airport called Sunwing’s new service from Toronto “a dream come true” after pitching the idea to the airline last year.
“Daytona is a very old, well-established community and Canada is a perfect market,” Gonzalez told PAX, noting how the region has, as of late, seen a boom in construction, indicating a wealth of new investment in tourism.
“We’re at the beginning of a five-year curve,” Gonzalez said. “Canada has been a loyal partner with the State of Florida for so long. It’s time they see and experience something different and Daytona is ready for them.”