The newly announced direct flights between Brisbane and Los Angeles by Virgin Blue’s international airline, V Australia, unlock huge potential for the Northern Rivers, says Northern Rivers Tourism CEO, Russell Mills.

“Brisbane airport is a key gateway to our region,” he said.

“Last year ending March 2008 nearly 54,000 international visitors came via Brisbane airport, with over 15,000 of them coming from the United States.

“While the downturn in the US economy has impacted on recent visitation from North America, the direct flights commencing early in 2009 will help renew interest  in our region from US travellers. 

“Virgin’s innovative marketing and the depth of experiences the Northern Rivers has to offer from nature-based tourism to luxury travel make for a compelling mix.”

Mr Mills said international visitor numbers coming to the Northern Rivers via Brisbane Airport had more than doubled in the five years from 2003 from 26,667 to 53,776 in 2008.

Most still arrive via Sydney (120,786 in 2008), but the gap has been generally decreasing over the past five years.

“This announcement is great timing as the new Tugun bypass brings the Northern Rivers even closer to the Brisbane Airport gateway, closer in fact than the Sunshine Coast,” Mr Mills said

“The Virgin brand is an amazingly good fit with the destination profile for our region and in particular, with the international profile of Byron Bay.

“We look forward to working with V Australia to capitalise on this new initiative and to boost our inbound tourism markets.”