The Tennessean | Lizzy Alfs
Convenient access to the United Kingdom is advantageous to Nissan North America’s business, a global automotive manufacturer with extensive operations in Europe.
A nonstop flight to London from Nashville International Airport on British Airways — which is expected to be formally announced as soon as next week — is a game changer for the automaker and many other major Middle Tennessee employers as relations between Nashville and the U.K. strengthen.
“London is an important destination for us; it’s also the gateway to the rest of Europe, so it opens opportunity from a business standpoint to have more direct flights into the U.K. and London,” said Scott Becker, senior vice president of Franklin-based Nissan North America.
The relationship between Nashville and the U.K. has taken center stage in recent months, with Nashville in aggressive pursuit of a Major League Soccer club and as tourism leaders look to international markets to bolster the already unprecedented tourism boom in Music City.
British Consul-General Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford touted the prospects of a Nashville-to-London flight during a reception last week ahead of the International Champions Cup game between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Nissan Stadium. The game itself drew a crowd in excess of 56,000, the most heavily attended soccer match ever held in Tennessee.
Several business leaders whose industries have a significant stake in the new flight declined to comment before a formal announcement. But for years, leaders in industries ranging from health care to country music have coveted a nonstop flight to London, which was eliminated in the mid-1990s when American Airlines ended an arrangement with Nashville International Airport.
“Nashville has been very active in recruiting more domestic and international flights for the last few years,” Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., said in a statement Friday. “We will keep working until a flight is officially announced. And then we will continue to work on additional service. The international market is critical to future growth of our industry and the state’s economic development efforts.”
The U.K. is one of Tennessee’s top five foreign investors, with U.K. companies employing more than 10,000 Tennesseans, according to the office of the British Consul-General. Meanwhile, Nashville-based companies such as HCA Healthcare and Asurion have operations in the U.K. that would benefit from direct access to London.
In June, Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe traveled to Europe for five days on an economic trip geared toward attracting more foreign direct investment from the region.
The trip included stops in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Germany.
Haslam and Rolfe pitched Tennessee’s business advantages to companies interested in establishing operations in the Southeastern United States.
Hayley Hovious, president of the Nashville Health Care Council, said a nonstop flight to London is vital to strengthening Nashville’s position as a global health care leader.
The industry association in March organized a study mission with 31 health care executives to London.
“We have actually a lot of ties back and forth with the U.K. when it comes to health care,” Hovious said, adding HCA Healthcare and Acadia Healthcare are key leaders in that arena. “From a business standpoint, you have actual business over there and you also have a real opportunity for sharing best practices among the service providers themselves.”
During that trip, Hovious said, several London-based companies expressed interest in opening a Nashville office but they were deterred by the lack of a nonstop international flight. Hovious said she spent time on Friday emailing those executives to share the news and promote Nashville as a health care hub with a global mindset.
“Really and truly, to be on someone’s radar as an international city and to be recognized as such, you really have to have a flight like this. It really puts you on the map,” Hovious said.
Jason Nelson, vice president of marketing and sales at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, said people from the U.K. rank among some of the top international visitors to the historic site. He’s hopeful a nonstop flight from London will bring new attention to Nashville as a global tourist destination.
“Obviously, any time there is news of an addition to the flight schedule that goes out of BNA, or as I like to call it, ‘a straight shot flight,’ all that is going to do is help everybody. I think that Nashville is very, very attractive to the international guest,” Nelson said.
The country music industry has already been investing in growing the genre in the U.K. The C2C country music festival celebrated its fifth anniversary in March, and concert tours through the U.K. are common for country artists.
Warner Music Nashville Chairman and CEO John Esposito pointed to his label’s ascending duo Dan+Shay as an example of growing a British audience.
“Dan+Shay are a good example in our camp who went and played small acoustic shows and singer-songwriter type shows, and then it turned into ticket sales in small venues with hundreds of people,” Esposito said. “Now it’s turning into lining up a tour to get us into the realm of 750- to 1,000-people venues. All to build up to them playing Royal Albert Hall and eventually Wembley Stadium.
“The audience comes in knowing the songs, singing them during the shows, which is amazing since the BBC only got a country channel recently. People are accessing them and becoming fans with streaming and downloads. It’s very exciting.”
Esposito said the London nonstop flight could trim promotional costs, which add up overseas. Esposito serves on the Metro Nashville Airport Authority’s air service coalition, but said he wasn’t speaking for the coalition and didn’t have any details on the London flight.
“The simpler travel methodology is in and of itself, if this flight comes to fruition, going to be easier on everybody,” Esposito said. “These artists tend to be successful in the U.S. vis-a-vis touring. If this saves time, that alone makes it worthwhile.”
Nate Rau contributed to this story. Reach Lizzy Alfs at [email protected] or 615-726-5948.