The Southwest Effect Coming To A Summer Near You (Finally)

Over the last year or so, you’ve heard the coined phrased a million times, “The Southwest Effect,” or, more specifically, the increase in airline travel to and from a community after service is inaugurated by Southwest Airlines. That phrase, and it’s somewhat pretentious definition, was the cornerstone in the big push to get the new airport placed, built and quickly up and running. You’ve waited with your doors open expecting the flood of Chicagoans, Tennesseans and the like to see our local marketing efforts and low fares into the “World’s Most Beautiful Beach” and show up with money in hand. Well, that hasn’t exactly happened yet, (insert BP insult here), but that’s not to say that this summer won’t see a spike in airline travel and, consequently, more traffic to your business. Recent trends, suggest, the “Effect” might be happening very soon.

Airline Travel:

Earlier this year, now former airport Executive Director, Randy Curtis, stated that statistics taken from the July-August season in 2010 compared to the old-airport’s numbers during the same time frame experienced a significant increase. In July-August 2009, the old airport handled about 30,000 monthly passengers. In 2010, however, during those same summer months, the numbers jumped to 83,000 passengers (per month) despite negative, national media coverage of BP’s oil disaster and the nation’s economical hardships.

Randy Curtis simplified the numbers-by stating that this year’s expectations are leaning towards “3x’s the number of passengers the old airport handled during the same time frame”.

So what does that mean? Well, quite simply, the “Effect” is in effect. What everyone expected from the new airport and the arrival of Southwest Airlines was that more flights would produce more visitors and a broader clientele. The first half of that is already true. We’ve essentially tripled the amount of passengers coming into Panama City Beach. So, does that necessarily mean more money?

Hotel Booking Numbers:

In a recent article, we explained how Hoteliers were cautiously optimistic about this year’
s tourist season. It seems that optimism is beginning to produce actual numbers and the numbers are good. We spoke with two local hotels and a condo owner renting properties on his own. In all three cases, numbers were up so far. One hotel GM even went as far as to say that Thunder Beach was “the best one we’ve ever had financially”. But it isn’t actual heads-in-beds that had everyone raving.

Nick Armstrong, GM of the Chateau Motel, said, “Our early bookings are up, compared to last year where people were more likely to wait until the last minute.”

Early booking numbers suggest that a). people are no longer worried about Oil, b). potential vacationers are more willing to set aside money they would/could not last year and c). individuals booking flights are also booking rooms.

If this trend continues, by the end of winter, hotel and condo numbers should be definitive as to whether the “Effect” has had any effect on them.

Increased Staffing:

If you drove around the beach just before Spring Break, you saw “Now Hiring” signs all over the place. This is not uncommon for our area as our seasons dictate the hiring increases. What is uncommon is that the “Now Hiring” signs are still up. In a recent visit to Pier Park, lots of establishments are hiring more people to help deal with the more individuals coming through their doors. Restaurants have bulked up staff members for both the increase in visitors and because of the numbers they project to do this summer. What was once “cautious optimism” is becoming serious preparation. This, of course, suggests that not only do the numbers show an increase in visitors now, but that our little town could be in for a BIG summer.



8 thoughts on “The Southwest Effect Coming To A Summer Near You (Finally)

  1. It doesn’t help to get a low price for an airline ticket but then have to pay $50 for a cab ride to the Calypso. Need some better regulation on that!


  2. Hey guys, I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but that stupid little “tweet, fb share” pop-up you inserted blocks the majority of the text from all your well crafted articles. And it continues to readjust itself back to the middle every time you scroll up or down. Move it off the written text and over to the right or something…it is VERY annoying and makes reading your articles unpleasant!!!


    1. Hi Casual Observer. I think you should stop using Internet Explorer 9. It breaks TONS of websites. You should move to a standards-compliant browser that will make your internet browsing experience better.


  3. I’m all for the new airport and Southwest’s service but…

    Quote “Randy Curtis simplified the numbers-by stating that this year’s expectations are leaning towards “3x’s the number of passengers the old airport handled during the same time frame”.”

    The old airport did 30K passengers/month in 2009….3x implies 90K passengers/month, which is an 8.5% increase over last year.

    Some effect.


  4. I just flew to Nashville and back last week on SW. Both planes were full flights. That never happened before in the 19 years that I lived here. The planes are bigger now too. I was pleasantly surprised. I have always flown out of New Orleans as it was cheaper and I am there quite often. Flying out if PCB was a better deal this time. I live our new airport. Keep SW at all costs.


  5. I would see no reason not to fly to PCB for our vacation except that when we arrive we would need a rental auto. If you do some research the price of renting an “economy” small auto is sometimes more than that of the condo fee for a full week…. not to mention the taxi fee to get to the rental place, some do not deliver auto to the airport and have it waiting for you.
    Any suggestions from anyone? Our vacation to PCB would not be fees-able to fly in June as we have to many family coming down with us but in Sept. it will be just my husband & I. If we could fly and find a reasonable rental auto we would do this.


  6. Is anyone keeping track of Visions Airline flights into Fort Walton? We in Louisville were passed up by Southwest making it difficult to fly into Panama City, but Visions Airline recently gave us direct flights down to Fort Walton, so at least we can get to the beach in a shorter period of time. I was going to make reservations to come down Memorial Day Weekend, and they were SOLD OUT! So, you may be getting visitors through Visions Airlines as well!


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