Meridiana Airlines is about to make American travelers’ trips to the two most compelling cultural hubs of Southern Italy – Palermo, Sicily and Naples, Campania – seamless, affordable and accessible to a wider audience for a longer season.
Four weekly nonstop flights will operate out of JFK-NY International Airport to Palermo and to Naples, through October 18, announced Antonio Cantale, the Area Sales Coordinator for Meridiana. Flights began on April 6, 2016.
Palermo’s famous anti-mafia politician, Mayor Leoluca Orlando attended the recent press conference in New York hosted by the Italian Tourist Board held at the Italian Consulate. There, he announced several dynamic reforms that are underway to reaffirm the beauty and importance of Sicily as well infrastructure improvements to ease the way there. Among those developments are a dozen new eco-museums.
What distinguishes the Meridiana announcements is the joint effort among the Palermitani: From Mayor Orlando to the airport authority to the Palermo Hotel Association to a clutch of rare and wonderful attractions in Palermo.
Everyone of them are offering discounts, or complimentary programs to Meridiana’s clientele who take advantage of the airline’s affordable pricing to support the new airlift.
It is rare to find tourist offices, private industry and the most compelling attractions work so well together toward a singular goal. Palermo’s Hotel Association is offering a 20 percent discount for U.S. travelers arriving with Meridiana.
Likewise, several not-to-be-missed attractions are also supporting the effort. The Teatro Massimo is offering a 20 percent discount for Guided Visits; the Royal Palace and Cappella Palatina have posted a 15 percent discount on tickets; the Modern Art Gallery is offering a steep 50 percent discount; and the Villa Niscemi and Palazzo delle Aquile (City Hall) have announced they will offer free guided tours for small groups.
Attending the evening was Mrs. Matilda Cuomo who remarked at how Mayor Orlando facilitated her own foray into Palermo with a group of students; the program has now become well established through that early assistance.
Although flights are aimed at all travelers from the U.S., about one quarter of the Italian American population is of Sicilian origin, a fact Meridiana keeps close track of. Meridiana’s new service is also organized to capture the outbound markets from Italy to the U.S. At the same time, the ethnic markets comprise a significant portion of Meridiana’s clientele.
Some attendees requested that flights operate out of Newark, New Jersey as well, which also has a high Italian American population. However, Cantale says for now, the flights will operate exclusively out of JFK International Airport. Additionally, the only carriers Meridiana has any agreements with are British Airways and Iberia; Cantale confided discussions are underway with an American carrier as well.
The 10th largest airport in Italy, Palermo’s international airport received nearly five million passengers last year, for a seven percent increase over the prior year. The good news is upgrades to passenger services are underway as demand soars.
During the next two weeks, an entirely new Arrivals Lounge will debut at the Palermo Airport increasing the size by 25,000 square feet. Car rental desks will be moved to the new area rather than the current mode of taking a shuttle with baggage in hand to the car rental windows. Cantale says the car rental companies will open early in time to receive morning U.S. arrivals.
Tour operator, Karen LaRosa of LaRosaWorks Sicily Tours and Travel, underscored the importance of the new construction, “The airline terminal and arrival experience is a tourist’s first encounter with Sicily. When a tourist’s needs are considered, they will feel welcomed from the very first moment.”
At the same time Meridiana, which has been increasing its U.S./Italy operations since 2005 when it operated a weekly flight between New York JFK and Palermo with an Airbus 330 and a Eurofly livery, has almost doubled its capacity in the past 10 years. Additionally, the fleet is now made up of Boeing 737 and 767 aircraft configured with 254 seats in economy and 18 in Electa, Meridiana’s business class. Set up in 1963 as Alisarda with the aim of promoting tourism to Sardinia, the name was changed to Meridiana in 1991. After a merger with charter carrier Eurofly and the acquisition of the charter company Air Italy, Meridiana has become an important player in the international leisure market.
Cantale mentioned Meridiana Airlines has been extending its own timetable to now include April to October (vs. May to Sept.) to entice more American travelers to take advantage of what is referred to in the travel trade as the “shoulder season.” Because high season coincides with school vacations from June to the end of August, prices are at their peaks, the planes and attractions are most crowded while the shoulder seasons can be a respite from long lines at airports and while sightseeing.
Advertising and marketing funding would also raise the profile of the shoulder season. For now, Meridiana is keeping its costs low in order to be able to charge far less than $1,000 for roundtrip flights to Southern Italy’s most compelling places: Naples and Palermo, Sicily, even at high season.
One attendee recalled one of the most successful marketing lines used many years ago to sell Sicily: “Give us three weeks and we’ll give you three thousand years of culture,” maybe someone will revive that theme.