After more than two years in the making, the first direct flight between Melbourne and the South West will take off this Wednesday. First penned to take off in March 2020, the direct route linking the Busselton Margaret River Airport to Melbourne have been repeatedly delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, thanks to Jetstar, the WA Government and local agencies, the long-awaited flights can now be added to the airways — bringing with it more than 60,000 visitors over the next three years Set to inject more than $40 million into the local economy, the long-awaited plans would be a much-needed boost for the region, Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said. “The industry has remained patient and flexible in the face of numerous route postponements, and it is exciting to be finally welcoming our first direct passengers from the east coast,” she said. “Even before the pandemic, securing Jetstar’s first domestic flight route in 20 years represented the culmination of over a decade of hard work, dedication and collaboration. “The route brings many other indirect benefits for this region — these include increased marketing exposure through Jetstar/Qantas channels, and improved understanding of the region among east coast visitors, whose perceptions can still be quite limited. “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we can proudly say that as a local industry we have matured a great deal over the 2½ years, and we are now in a better position than ever to appeal to interstate visitors and provide them with a high quality experience.” To ensure the route’s success the MRBTA had been working closely with the State Government and Tourism WA on marketing strategies to drive domestic sales, including a $12m marketing blitz on the east coast and the South West Wanderer Pass incentive program, offering $100 vouchers to passengers to redeem against South West tourism experiences. Currently, interstate tourists who wish to access the South West have to fly in to Perth and drive two to three hours south. Last year Jetstar Group chief executive Gareth Evans told The West Australian that “Margaret River is renowned for its food, natural beauty and surf beaches and offers a great variety of experiences for travellers looking to explore more of Australia in 2021”. “We’ve seen firsthand the huge appetite Victorians have for travel after what has been a tough year, and we expect demand for these flights will be strong,” he said. “It’s also great news for Western Australian tourism, with the new service predicted to provide a huge boost in visitor numbers at a time when local operators need it most.” City of Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said while the delays have been frustrating for eager travellers and family reunions their arrival was welcomed by all. “Many have been looking forward to that date whether it be to take holidays themselves or welcoming visitors into the region,” he said. “These flights will be a foot in the door into getting direct flight routes into the South West and we look forward to welcoming visitors.” The new route follows major upgrades to the Busselton Margaret River Airport in 2019, including $45m in funding from the State Government. Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the flight’s take-off was a long time coming, and would be a pivotal moment for the region’s tourism market. “These new Busselton-Melbourne flights could be a real game-changer for the South West, creating a whole new tourism market for one of our State’s most renowned destinations,” she said. “While it has been occasionally frustrating, the decision to delay the first flight until we had certainty over State borders gives the route the best possible chance of success. “Thank you to the community for keeping the dream alive over the past two years.” Flights will leave Melbourne on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 08.05 and arrive in Busselton at 9.10am. The return flights will depart at 9.45am on the same days and arrive in Melbourne at 4.15pm.