Published on August 2nd, 2012 | by Mark Chesnut
Copa Airlines Expands in Puerto Rico — Exclusive Interview
There is no denying that Panama City-based Copa Airlines is in growth mode. And one of the beneficiaries of that growth is San Juan, Puerto Rico, where in June the company launched a third daily nonstop flight. As Copa Airlines expands in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island becomes better connected with the rest of Latin America. And in this exclusive interview, Hector Busquets, the company’s general manager in San Juan, talks with LatinFlyer about the reason behind the growth.
LatinFlyer: What factors led Copa to expand its service to Puerto Rico?
Hector Busquets: Copa Airlines began flights to Puerto Rico more than 20 years ago, and we have experienced steady growth. We started with seasonal service and later added flight frequencies as the years progressed. Soon after, we began daily, non-stop service from our base, the Hub of the Americas in Panama. We have offered two daily flights to Panama with connections throughout Latin America for the last decade. We feel that Puerto Rico fits in well with our business model. As the only Latin American carrier operating on the island, we strongly believe that the market will be better served by adding a third flight.
What do you think are the main factors driving growth in traffic and demand to Puerto Rico?
Since Puerto Rico is an island, airline connections are extremely important in terms of driving traffic and demand. Puerto Rico is a beautiful island with many tourist attractions. It’s a favorite destination for tourism, conventions and business travel. In addition, the island residents take pleasure in traveling and enjoy visiting other destinations.
This Copa Airlines third flight from Puerto Rico also increases passenger convenience. With the recent opening of new Copa destinations such as Guanacaste (Costa Rica), Recife (Brazil), as well as Iquitos (Peru) and Curacao, our Hub of the Americas at the Tocumen Airport continues to be a key factor in the connection and transportation of passengers to and from Latin America. We offer the most convenient – and seamless – connections from San Juan and the Caribbean to South America and Central America through our hub in Panama.
How does Puerto Rico differ from other Caribbean destinations that your company serves?
Puerto Rico passengers reflect a mix of leisure and business travel. Leisure travelers are attracted to our climate, history and island beauty, as well as the mix of Latin American culture with a mainland connection.
When promoting the destination to other Latin American countries, we emphasize the obvious cultural connections with a strong Latin flavor.
Regarding business travel, Puerto Rico has a fairly sizable number of companies whose headquarters are located in Mexico, Central or South America. Also, U.S. companies whose Latin American headquarters are located within the region travel quite a bit to Puerto Rico as well. We believe that Copa’s connecting service through the Hub of the Americas is very convenient and offers the best option for business travelers.
Puerto Rico has a rather unique status as a destination, different from other Latin American destinations because of its ties to the United States. How does this affect Copa’s approach to the destination, compared with other destinations?
We feel that our local outbound leisure traveler is more interested in learning about and visiting sites within the region. These are travelers who already are familiar with U.S. destinations and want to expand their experience in Latin America. They look for diversity, adventure and natural beauty.
Inbound leisure travelers to Puerto Rico enjoy the island’s one-of-a-kind experience with its many tourist attractions, history, culture and nightlife.
How do you feel about the pending privatization of the San Juan airport?
Our main focus is our passengers. If this privatization is aligned with the growth of the market and results in benefits for our customers, then we feel that it would be a good move.
Copa Airlines is the only major Latin American carrier with regular service into San Juan. What does Copa Airlines see in this market that the other carriers don’t seem to recognize?
Copa Airlines has been serving Puerto Rico for over 20 years. Each of our destinations adds its own value to our route network and Puerto Rico is definitely no exception. Without question, Puerto Rico is a strong Caribbean market with much to offer leisure and business travelers.
We evaluate the potential of all our markets to provide direct, nonstop flights to Panama that will allow us to continue to offer the best connections to Central and South America. The Puerto Rican market has the potential to generate thousands of visitors from Latin America to enjoy this beautiful island, as well as to create business and tourism opportunities between Latin America and Puerto Rico.
On a personal note, where are you from originally? What do you like best about San Juan on a personal level, and what’s your favorite thing about Panama City?
I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I like Puerto Rico’s Caribbean location and its beautiful beaches.
Panama City, where we operate our Hub of the Americas, impresses me because of its ongoing developments such as luxury hotels, its impressive skylines, and how modern the city is. But, my personal favorite is the fascinating Panama Canal.
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