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European flag carrier KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is to introduce the only non-stop flight linking the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena to Europe when it adds flights to Rafael Núñez International Airport early next year. The SkyTeam alliance member will add Cartagena to its existing Amsterdam – Bogota service from March 28, 2017 meaning a one-stop direct link from the Netherlands and non-stop offering into Europe.
This will be the first time Cartagena will be linked non-stop to Europe in around ten years since AirMadrid offered flights from to the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Madrid back in the mid-2000s. Cartagena also successfully attracted flights from Italy with Blue Panorama Airlines at the start of this decade but these were purely on a charter basis.
KLM introduced its current Amsterdam – Bogota – Cali route in March 2015 as part of an expanded summer schedule using Boeing 777 equipment on the route. It marked the airline’s return to the Colombian market having previously served Bogota from October 1992 until March 1995.
“South America certainly has caught our interest as we look to grow. After increasing frequencies to Ecuador and adding Santiago de Chile as a destination to KLM’s portfolio, expanding our services to Colombia fits our strategy,” said Pieter Elbers, president and chief executive officer, KLM.
It will now replace the Cali stop with Cartagena for summer 2017, also introducing the 787-9 Dreamliner on the three times weekly route at the same time. KLM decision to cease to serve Cali is a double transatlantic blow for the Colombian city as Iberia is closing its own flights between Cali and Madrid from the end of March 2017.
"KLM is always looking for new ways to improve its network. The number of passengers travelling to Cali was decreasing, particularly in the business segment. Cartagena is a beautiful and historic city on the Caribbean coast and is attracting a growing number of international tourists," said Pieter Groeneveld, vice president network planning, KLM.
“I am delighted that KLM has decided to open up Cartagena to the European market. KLM will be launching a market which has had a lack of European connectivity,” said Omar Hashmi, consultant at leading route development consultants, Airport Strategy & Marketing (ASM).
ASM has been working closely with airport operator Sociedad Aeroportuaria de la Costa (SACSA) for a number of years providing strategic advice, business case development and hands-on network development support and providing a joined-up approach to air service development with Cartagena Tourism. It has already played an important role in delivering three other international air services to Cartagena in the past few years – JetBlue Airways from Fort Lauderdale, Delta Air Lines from Atlanta and most recently LATAM Airlines to Lima, Peru, which launches in January 2017.
ASM have been working closely with Cartagena to secure a European route for a long time and the idea of a tagged service with Bogota has been a key consideration as Cartagena will improve the passenger mix and help Bogota with operational issues with its sea level stop.
"Combined with the business centre of Bogotá, Cartagena makes a good combination to strengthen KLM’s presence in Colombia. Because of Cartagena’s advantageous location, the flight from Bogotá to Amsterdam will be shorter," confirmed KLM's Groeneveld on the reasoning behind the change of destination.
“ASM forecasts and market analytics have definitely been pivotal in the decision and we look forward to working with KLM to make the route a success. We expect the number of European arrivals into Cartagena to stimulate and greatly contribute to tourism and the local economy,” added Hashmi.
Over the last (12 months to October 2016) an estimated 68,000 bi-directional passengers flew between Europe and Cartagena, just under 95 PPDEW (passengers per-day, each-way). The majority of these passengers currently connect with Avianca via Bogota or via the Colombian capital and European flag carriers as the US carriers serving the market offer flights timed for local US connectivity. Interestingly, the data shows that more passengers currently travel on a two-stop to a one-stop itinerary to get from Cartagena to their proposed European destination.
A closer look at trends this decade shows that market between Cartagena and Europe is growing on annual basis, but has been significantly stimulated over the past two years. After very modest year-on-year growth of 4.8 per cent in 2011, 1.3 per cent in 2012, 3.1 per cent in 2013 and 5.2 per cent in 2014, the market boomed in 2015 with traffic up 54.7 per cent. The year to date (January – October 2016) traffic for 2016 already exceeds last year’s annual totals with a like for like growth of 25.9 per cent.
It has been a long time coming, but Colombia’s improving international image as a safe tourism destination means that its flagship attraction, the UNESCO-protected colonial city of Cartagena, is reaping some real dividends. Colombia has yet to fully realise the tourism possibilities of developing its Caribbean coast, but passenger figures from Cartagena’s Rafael Núñez International Airport, are already showing promising growth signs.
The airport almost hit the three million passenger mark in 2012 after growing by at least 20 per cent annually in the previous four years, and since hosting Routes Americas in February 2013 growth has continued - annual departure capacity has risen 45.0 per cent from 1.75 million seats in 2013 to over 2.5 million forecasted for the current calendar year, based on published schedules. Over this period international capacity has increased 58.3 per cent and now accounts for 13.1 per cent of its total seat offering.
“We are very excited with this new commercial route to Amsterdam,” Maria Claudia Gedeon, corporate affairs manager at SACSA told Routesonline following the KLM announcement. “This route will be our only direct connection with Europe and with the Tourism Board of Cartagena, ASM and all the stakeholders, we are working very hard to make it a very successful flight. The expertise of ASM on the market, route forecasting and what airlines require has been greatly appreciated in delivering this new route to Cartagena.”