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.
In case you’ve been wondering whether the construction of the new airport was in vain, 2010 passenger traffic since the new airport has been open is almost triple what it was in 2009, during the 2010 summer months. Despite the threat of oil on our beaches, the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and all the marketing horsepower that was brought to the market by Southwest Airlines has been considered a huge success.
A normal July and August usually brings about 30,000 people per month through the old Panama City airport, but this summer there was around 83,000 per month. This number comes as a huge welcome and leaves immense speculation: what would it have been like had we NOT had the oil spill scare?
Icing on the cake was October’s numbers, 73,000 passengers came through the new airport – attributed to fall breaks around the country, national holidays and a series of successful fall events on Panama City Beach.
As if increased traffic wasn’t enough, the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport seems to be drawing travelers regionally as well. The parking lot frequently has cars from Tallahassee, Dothan, Ft. Walton, Destin, and even Pensacola. The July and August numbers were also higher than Tallahassee’s passenger traffic numbers, for the first time ever – who normally come in at around 50,000 per month.
The word seems to be getting out that traveling to Panama City Beach is easier than it has ever been. Mike Bennet, TDC Chairman and local restaurateur commented at Tuesday’s TDC meeting of a conversation he had with a visitor to one of his restaurants: “They were from Dallas, TX and normally took their beach vacation in Corpus Christi, and were surprised at how accessible and beautiful Panama City Beach was – they said they’d be coming back every year.” This message was resounded by others recounting similar stories with customers.
Total annual traffic is now expected to be around 600,000 to 700,000 at the new Panama City Airport, which isn’t far off from big-city Pensacola, who passes around a million travelers through its gates every year.