Over the course of the last 2 months following Coastal Vision 3000’s announcement of its disbanding, numerous articles have been written, many speculative, as to what caused the doors to close. Even more were curious as to the declaration of, “Mission Accomplished,” and what goals of Coastal Vision 3,000 were actually achieved. To answer our questions, we went directly to the source, Mr. Davage “Buddy” Runnels, who served as the chairman of CV3’s board. In his view, the mission was accomplished, but not yet completed.
Coastal Vision 3,000 wanted to do two things above all else; bring a low cost carrier into the area and to brand the region as a whole. One of those goals, blasted on news station everywhere, was clearly accomplished.
“Coastal Vision did play a role in getting (Southwest Airlines) to come here sooner rather than later.” Mr. Runnels said. “I went to a meeting with Southwest September the 7th 2007 with representatives from both Pensacola airport and Panama City airport, and Southwest said that their model was to come to the region in 2017. Unless there is a regional effort, a oneness of purpose and heart to market the region, they would not come until 2017. It was our goal then to market the region, to forget county lines and anything else except the region. That was the ultimate vision of Coastal Vision. From the standpoint of saying mission accomplished we were successful and one of our significant goals is being a part of getting a low cost carrier to locate here. I think we played a key role in that.”
In that regard, the goal of Coastal Vision was accomplished. The vision behind the initiative, however, is still very much in the making. One of CV3’s most convincing arguments in getting that low cost carrier was the promise of branding our region as a whole; bridging the highly competitive gaps between over 30 Chambers of Commerce and 7 TDCs all vying for current and new tourist markets.
“We didn’t try to convince them (Southwest) where to go. We wanted them to come to the region independent of which airport.” Mr. Runnels went on to say, “There is a perception that we took one area over another and that’s just not the truth. It was the nature of the decision more than anything. It became territorial. Once the decision was made (on which airport) it brought pressure to the initiative. We wanted them to come to the region; they decided to come to the new International airport because by their model it was ultimately what was best for them. “ “But the bottom line is that we need to work together as a region; to market the region as a whole.”
The marketing of the region as a whole is where the vision of the initiative can be seen working still, even behind the scenes. It became clear the moment Mr. Runnels spoke about the Southwest effect. CV3 wanted to bring in a low cost carrier in order to bring into fruition its main initiative: branding the region.
“The Southwest effect will open the area to new markets that don’t drive here. To expand the markets, the connection to the low cost carrier provides an additional explosion of growth not only from a tourist standpoint, but from an economic development and a military standpoint as well.
“The Southwest effect will open up to new markets at a price point where people will travel more. Even to other airports that Southwest does not come into, we will see lower ticket prices. I’ve received two email blasts already from Delta that say $59 round trip. Even though I know there is disappointment the Pensacola Airport or the Fort Walton Airport was not selected, and I would be disappointed too, they are going to receive a tremendous benefit. It is going to be much more competitive which does help the convention facility traffic, rooms, economic development and military travel in those areas by competitively lowering prices.”
The vision of CV3 was a promise to brand the region. From Mr. Runnels’ view, that vision is still very much in sight. Southwest’s greatest effect on an area is growth and development, creating expansion in every area in which it settles. The region in which we live, notorious for its competitive spirit and disembodied sense of exclusivity, will have no choice but to expand into each other. By bringing Southwest to our area, its greatest effect will be a organic unification of the region, the very initiative Coastal Vision set out to accomplish.
“The initiative is to accomplish the regional effort with integrity and oneness of purpose and heart to help market the region and help us all succeed rather than fail. Forget county lines, individual cities, chambers and TDCs and anything else but the region. That is the ultimate vision of Coastal Vision.”
With Southwest now in place, it seems as if the goal of marketing the region, a region that Mr. Runnels believes when put together can rival places like Costa Rica with our history, beaches, eco travel, fishing, and accommodations, will happen one way or another. Coastal Vision’s mission was accomplished because it has helped put into place the opportunity for our small parts to become a very attractive whole. But they are not done yet.
“When we said we are disbanding, we were putting it on hold until we had a greater impact on the region. Until the region is further established, we will not keep spending money. I believe at the right time the initiative will be taken off the shelf and reengaged to help the regional effort. I hope the rebirth of Coastal will be such to complete that.