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.

 

 

Southwest Airlines buys AirTran Airways [DEAL CLOSED]

In a move that will inch them closer to being the largest airline in the US, Southwest Airlines closed the purchase of AirTran Airways Monday.  The airline already flies more passengers per year, over 100 million, but most of them are vacation travelers, rather than business travelers.  This purchase move is said to increase their leverage to capture the higher-fare-paying business traveler.

Acquisition benefits to Southwest Airlines
  • Gains access to Washington’s Reagan National Airport
  • Acquired gates in New York’s LaGuardia Airport
  • Acquires AirTran’s hub in Atlanta
  • Will increase passenger traffic by 25%

As of right now, it’s unclear how Southwest’s $1 billion purchase of AirTran will effect the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.  It’s assumed that Southwest will integrate AirTran’s routes with their own, but it’s too early to tell how this will  pan out.  Obviously a huge element of this buy is the acquisition of the Atlanta hub as this is highly sought after in the business travel arena.  Of course, the Atlanta part of this deal is particularly interesting to us as that area has always been a great feeder to our market.  If access to Atlanta was easier, we may be able to expect a boost in tourism travel from there.

 

New Airport Names New Executive Director

There has been some changes in management at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.  Former Executive Director Randy Curtis has been moved to a different role, Director of Special Projects and John Wheat was named the Executive Director.  This move came quickly with little fanfare and only but a little commotion from one of the board members who held the only dissenting vote – Andy McKenzie.  McKenzie’s quarrel with the swift action was that it was just that, too fast.

In the past, airport positions have been well publicized, accepted many resumes and have opened up discussion for the board in advance.  The hiring of Wheat was fast, not well discussed in public and actually slipped through in the board meeting without his name being mentioned.

The quick movements were justified by other board members by the time-sensitive negotiations the board was in with Southwest and Delta Airlines over future landing fees.  As of date, the airlines have not been happy with the pace of negotiations and the new appointments were expected to accelerate a final agreement.  Landing fees are a significant revenue generator for the airport.  Concurrent with the appointment of Wheat as the new executive director, both airlines and St. Joe gave their nod of approval of Wheat as well.

Another appointment was made as well: Parker McClellan as the Deputy Executive Director.

I bet you’re wondering how much all these guys make.  I know I sure was.  In an article recently released in the News Herald, the annual salaries were noted:  John Wheat, Executive Director, $135,000; Parker McClellan, Deputy Executive Director, $100,000; Randy Curtis, Director of Special Projects, $116,000.

Here is the full press release:

Panama City, Fla. (April 27, 2011) – The Airport Authority has named John Wheat as the executive director of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. As executive director, Wheat is responsible for leading the operational and strategic efforts of the Airport and reports to the Airport Authority Board of Directors. Wheat brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the aviation industry and most recently served as COO of the Tampa International Airport, where he was responsible for the organization’s finances and operations, as well as brings valued relationships with key partners.

The Airport Authority has also introduced a new organizational model for the Airport with a leadership team that is well-positioned to take the organization forward. This includes Parker McClellan as Deputy Executive Director and Randy Curtis as Director of Special Projects. McClellan, who most recently served as the acting director for the Airport, is now the Deputy Executive Director to ensure a comprehensive leadership team with all airport activity working through this position and up to the Executive Director. Curtis will play an important role in the closing of the “old airport”, as well as ensuring the airport maintains positive relationships with various state and federal agencies. His historical and institutional knowledge will be valuable to the upcoming work on behalf of this organization.

With the addition of John Wheat, the Northwest Florida Beaches International leadership team brings the vision, experience and relationships to best leverage one of the community’s greatest assets. This strategic leadership team is focused on driving the region’s economic vitality as they lead the first international airport to open in more than 10 years. The gateway to beautiful world-famous beaches, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport boasts a plethora of convenient flights daily serviced by Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines.

New Airport Pictures – NEVER BEFORE SEEN

You know how when you see project or construction renderings, the imagery always seems so polished, glossy and beautiful looking?  You always hope the final product will look just half as good as the original artist’s touch, but the real thing just never seems to be quite as beautiful.  Well, in the case of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport – the exact opposite is true.  The final product, to me, looks even more beautiful than the original artist’s concepts.

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2011 Tourism Predictions- Staffing Spree

This is the third article in a series that explores 2011 Tourism Predictions for Panama City Beach.

“If you market it, you must be prepared to staff it”

This is a *statement liberated from Socrates’s, um- well, his lesser known cousin, ahem, **Heraclitus.

However, let’s not quarrel over the origins of the statement, and opt to simply take into consideration it’s message.

We’ve been marketing, promoting, negotiating and canoodling with every possible venue, avenue, social site and persons, to spread the good word.

The word being that Spring Break & the Summer Season of 2011, is bigger and now-with-more-sparkles, then this past year of troubled times. The campaign has been proving it’s success through various ways of tracking, and along with the success of inviting the masses into our community, we’ve properly followed through by reaching out to the employable community to help handle the welcomed influx.

Article Below

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TDC/CVB Meeting- 2011 Marketing Plans

TDC/CVB Feb 8 meeting offered an in-depth look into the 2011 marketing strategies as well as an opportunity to check out the newest TV Commercials.

The Real. Fun. Beach commercials were created to hit specific markets and have two versions in rotation, aimed at targeting Couples and Families.

More Info Below

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New Airport Set to Triple Numbers 2011

This is the first article in a series that explores 2011 Tourism Predictions for Panama City Beach.

Spring is right around the corner, and along with the knowledge of the coming season, we’re finding that our town is divided into three parts. The Optimists, The Pessimists and The Realists.

At times, it looks as though the Realists Team and the Optimists Team are on the same page, leaving the Pessimists to bemoan, well – everything.

For the most part, the Panama City Beach community is fanning those beginning sparks of excitement, while remaining optimistically cautious, over the vast potential of the 2011 tourism season.

Instead of sitting around speculating any longer, we decided to check in with some of PCB’s seasoned pro’s, those business savvy locals, who’ve been through this whole tourism thing a time or two.

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Airport to Double Parking Lot Size

The new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport had record breaking numbers this past summer, despite local difficulties.  We had tons of traffic coming in, but we also had more traffic going out than we’ve ever seen here before.  In fact, the number of people going out far exceeded expectations, so much so that the parking that was developed was not sufficient and the airport was forced to open temporary parking adjacent to the existing parking lot.

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New Airport STOMPS Old Airport Numbers [REPORT]

Northwest Florida International Airport is always a fun topic. Everyone loves to talk about it, read about it and quote words like “projected passenger travel” and “estimated” while throwing numbers around so fast, that even Superman is starting to look a little windburned.

While numbers and statistics are a necessary evil in the realm of progress, reports and city planning, I’m the kind of person who lives life in the blunt lane, so instead of telling me percentages, I need to know how these numbers translate into simple Good Move/Bad Move terms.

On the off chance, that you, too, might be this kind of person, let me translate the newest numbers from our lovely Northwest Florida International Airport.

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