HARLINGEN, Texas – The vice president of international sales and global development for Frontier Airlines says the Rio Grande Valley has great potential as a tourist destination.

Alfredo Gonzalez gave an in-depth interview to the Rio Grande Valley International News Service at a recent news conference held at Valley International Airport in Harlingen. 

The news conference was held to announce a new nonstop flight from VIA to Las Vegas, starting in September, on Sundays and Thursdays. The one-way price from Frontier Airlines is only $49.

While the new service might have been started to assist Valley tourists wishing to visit Las Vegas, it was put to Gonzalez that Vegas residents might also be interested in the Valley, After all, the Rio Grande Valley is lucky enough to be home to South Padre Island. Gonzalez said he could not agree more.

“This is not just a flight, it is a story to be told. After what we suffered in the last year, this is a beautiful story and a beautiful destination that has all the assets that we think we need in order to have a successful flight,” Gonzalez said.

“This area is an undiscovered gem. Even though as discovered as places like South Padre Island are, I think that the diversity of product on both sides of the border are amazing and I think it is what people in today’s world are looking for. They might not be looking for the giant rollercoaster anymore. They are looking for beautiful beaches, wide open spaces, places where you can take your family, relax and really take in after such a hard time in the last year and a half.” 

Gonzalez continued: “South Padre Island has historically been an amazing recreational holiday vacation destination. And I think we as an airline understand that people need to go in both directions. Yes, it is great that we can service the most fun city in America, Las Vegas, but at the same time look at the numbers of hundreds of thousands of people that live in Clark County and all around Las Vegas that want to have a holiday on the beach. There are no beaches in Vegas.”

So, should SPI and the RGV be promoted in Vegas, Gonzalez was asked.

“I think what we have over the next couple of weeks and months, as we see the progress of the flights, is what do we do? As you know, getting to top is not difficult, staying on top is. What we need to do is stay on top. That is through marketing, public relations. We have an amazing network of social media that we continue to tell the story. And that is what we are, telling the story about how do we put people at the right place at the right time at the right price.”

Gonzalez was asked if the business sector would rebound like the leisure market has for the airline industry.

“Different people have different ideas. Very intelligent people… Sir Tim Clark, chairman and CEO of Emirates Airways, said last year, don’t discount that the business world will come back. He called it Zoom fatigue. I do believe that that is the case,” Gonzalez said.

“As much as it is convenient to talk to somebody over your computer, the value of meeting someone face to face, there is no comparison. Mr. Clark is right and he has been very right for very long. The business sector will come back. It won’t come back as fast as the leisure market has come back. Pent up demand for leisure travel is off the charts. But, you are seeing it right now. Conventions are starting to meet face to face. Businesses are opening, people are going back to work in the office, limited schedules but… the writing is on the wall. It is just a matter of months.”

Esterly: Valley International Airport is in excellent shape

Alfredo Gonzalez of Frontier Airlines, and Jose Mulet and Marv Esterly of Valley International Airport.

HARLINGEN, Texas – The aviation director for Valley International Airport in Harlingen says his airport is in “excellent shape.”

Marv Esterly gave the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service an in-depth interview at a recent Frontier Airlines news conference. It was held to announce a new service at VIA – nonstop flights from Harlingen to Las Vegas starting in September.

Asked how VIA was recovering after the coronavirus pandemic, Esterly said: “Oh gosh, we are in excellent shape financially and of course we have our lions share of the airlines and non-stop destinations. Last month, I believe, in June, we were actually four percent down over 2019. And that is with less capacity, that still hasn’t returned to our market. So, when that capacity returns from two of our carriers, we expect to be well over 2019 numbers.”

While the number of travelers for June was close to the same month in 2019, Esterly said that, starting in October, he would expect “a stellar year and one of our best years ever.”

Asked if business travel would return to pre-pandemic numbers, Esterly said: “Business travelers will pick up. I think it has changed forever. There are now some meetings that can now be done on computers. And people are used to that. But there is nothing like human interaction with, say, sales people that are coming in, or architects that have to be there on site to do business. I think conventions will pick up pretty quickly because it is nearly impossible to network unless you are actually there.”

In recent months, VIA, the City of Harlingen, and the City of South Padre Island have strengthened their partnerships to ensure taxi cab operators can move passengers from the airport to the island and back without any bureaucratic red tape. 

Asked about this, Esterly said: “I cannot thank our partners on South Padre enough for everything they have done with us, collaborating with us in the last few years. It has really helped us give them great air service and to get passengers to South Padre Island. It is truly a collaboration of lots of partners that make these things happen. The City of Harlingen, Harlingen EDC, are super partners. Once we are able to get these airlines in, then it is up to us to make sure we fill the seats in order to keep the airline service.”

Asked where air travelers whose destination is SPI are coming from, Esterly said: “All over the state of Texas. We are really expecting a really good Winter Texans season, from the Mid West. And also from the south now, with Monterrey. All our flights coming in are booked, nearly to capacity, from Monterrey. And we are super happy about that. We are also super happy to work with them in the future on other non-stop destinations in Mexico.”

Esterly said air travelers arriving from Monterrey are “mostly coming to see family and friends. They are coming to stay at the condo that they own on the island. As well to shop. There are a few that are coming for vaccines as well.”

Esterly added: “Boy, I tell you, if you haven’t got out there yet, you haven’t had a chance to travel, now is the time. Book your flight ahead of time, to give yourself plenty of time so you can take advantage of the lower fares, especially for the holiday season. There is a lot of pent up demand and a lot of people that want to travel. Even with the additional capacity we are seeing now, it is going to be tight.”

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell spoke at the news conference. Boswell said he was super excited to be announcing the new Harlingen to Las Vegas service via Frontier.

“From $49 one way. It is an amazing price to a great destination and on a great airline,” Boswell said.

Jose Mulet, director of air service and business development, said Sundays and Thursdays are the two most popular days to fly to Vegas. He said those traveling on a Sunday can take advantage of cheaper hotel prices at the beginning of the week. 

Mulet said he and Esterly are talking to the airlines that bring Winter Texans to the Valley – Sun Country and Delta – in hopes of revamping their services.

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