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.

Continue reading “New Airport STOMPS Old Airport Numbers [REPORT]”

Summer Gas Price Projections Encourage Travel

Flashbacks of 2008 gas prices chilled spines throughout Memorial Day weekend as costs jumped at the pump from the $2.20 national average. The popular Circle K, at the entrance of the Strip on Front Beach topped out at $2.49 for regular unleaded for the weekend, 13 cents higher than the weekend’s national average of $2.36. Still, that’s $1.44 a gallon cheaper than a year ago when fears of an oil shortage sent energy prices soaring. Cheaper gas means more driving, which bodes well for the Panama City Beach’s summer tourism season.

Last summer’s oil shortage cut 2008 travel significantly. Recently released Energy Department data says, November to November last year, U.S. motorists drove 53.2 billion fewer miles than they did over the same period a year earlier. Gas prices in 2008 affected travelers deeply. GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media polls showed 54 percent of Americans cut back travel in 2008 because of gas prices. But, the Energy Information Administration’s April 2009 report says retail prices for April through September in 2009 are projected to average $2.23/gallon. With that 40% decrease in the cost of gas, 2009 summer travel should see a significant boost.

AAA travel and auto group forecasted a 1.5 percent rise in travel compared with 2008 for the U.S. Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of the traditional summer driving season. The trend is expected to continue during the major summer travel holidays of the Fourth of July and Labor Day as lower fuel prices resuscitate the sensibility for folks to take a vacation.

If these predictions hold true, Panama City Beach should be a huge beneficiary of the travel trend. Drivers to Panama City Beach this Memorial Day weekend said the gas prices definitely impact their travel plans. “Gas prices change everything,” said Cindy Matheny, who drove to the Panama City Beach from Troy, Alabama to enjoy the weekend. She, with a car packed with kids, filled the tank of her van at the Chevron on the corner of North Lagoon and Joan Avenue. “We’ve come to Panama City Beach every summer. The price of gas determines how many trips we’ll take. You really have to weigh your options these days. Gas is still cheaper than last year and this economy needs the help.”

Survey Says Affordability Increasing U.S. Residents' Intent to Travel

According to the most recent results of the travelhorizons quarterly survey, the U.S. Traveler Sentiment Index rose to 90.2 in February 2009 from 78.2 in October 2008 due to an increase in the perceived “affordability of travel.” The survey, which was conducted from Feb. 7 to 13, polled a representative survey of 2,270 adults, from which the Index is calculated.

The spike in the perceived affordability appears to be a direct result of the promotional pricing and related incentives now being offered by tour suppliers who represent practically every segment of the travel industry. Many airlines, cruise lines, hotel companies, attractions and rental car companies are featuring rates and fares that are up to 50 percent off the prices being quoted just six months ago.

“We are very encouraged that more people are signaling a willingness to travel for leisure purposes,” said Peter C. Yesawich, chairman of Ypartnership, which co-authors travelhorizons with the U.S. Travel Association. “This is the first increase we have observed in the Index since January 2008, which indicates that the discounts travel providers and destinations are offering are working to attract more travelers, even in this down economy.”  Source:  National Tour Association

As I travel around the southeast promoting our destination at consumer trade shows, speaking to thousands of people, one thing is clear.  Families are still traveling for vacations and get-a-ways.  We are fortunate to be a drive destination and have the first ever international green airport under construction.  If our spring season is any indication of what the summer is going to bring, I predict a good year for visitors and businesses.

I will be traveling to Nashville, TN next week to the Southern Women’s Show.  Over 34,000 ladies will attend the four day event.  I look forward to promoting our destination, accommodations and fun things to do while staying on “The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches”.  I will give an update on my trip home.

Debi Knight, President
Panama City Beach Tourism Services

New Airport Runway Deeper, but Not Longer – yet.

In a somewhat boring meeting that was exciting at the same time, the Airport Authority unanimously accepted the lowest bid for the terminal, with the stipulation that they needed to come back $4 to $6 million less than where they were at.  If that confuses you, let me clarify, because it was confusing to me at first.

The bid for construction was awarded to Walbridge, who was the low bidder at $68 million.  The Airport Authority had determined a budget of $54 million for the terminal based on preliminary studies and had confirmed this as recently as May of this year.  Former Panama City Mayor Gerry Clemons pointedly asked what changed between May and now to cause an increase of $14 million and after not being answered once, he asked again.  Again David Hanson of Walbridge danced around and avoided the question.  The gracious Joe Tannehill eloquently stated “we are where we are”, indicating he was ready to move on from that particular merry-go-round.  Mr. Tannehill asked Hanson and a representative from HNTB, the architecture firm, whether they had been in communication and working together to come up with the best solution to cut costs without effecting the overall usability, quality, and public appearance of the new airport terminal.  The answer was a quick no, only not said in so few words.  Again, Mr. Tannehill so eloquently stated that if they didn’t come together, they would be both looking for work as the airport job wouldn’t be a job their firms would have any longer. The two firms assured the board that they would have a presentation in a week specifying the approach that would lower the costs an additional $4 to $6 million and they would have a suitable, acceptable contract for the bid on or before October 7th.  Wow, say that out loud – what a mouthful.

Mr. Jeff Dealy, in his construction update, announced that currently, test strips were being laid down for the runway.

The Board unanimously approved increasing the runway depth to 15 inches with the top layer consisting of concrete.  It was discussed lightly the need to go ahead and construct the entire 10,000 feet of the runway, which is an extension of the initial 8,400 feet.  This was not voted on as they are still awaiting permitting from the FAA for the extension, and they didn’t want to “get ahead of the FAA”.  This will be formally decided upon the meeting after the permitting is approved.  Centerline lighting on the runway was also approved.

During the public participation portion of the meeting John Caylor, candidate for County Clerk and zaney “investigative reporter” tried to get in some hoopla about how the public showed they did not want the airport through vote and proceeded to talk about how St. Joe was a bunch of crooks.  John, throwing the vote on a Democratic ballot and seeing a 22% voter turnout with 54% of overall turnout voting against the airport is hardly overwhelming.  After a quite boistrous performance, he was told to leave by the Airport Cheif of Police.