Panama City Beach – Group wants 5 million new air passengers

PANAMA CITY BEACH — From The News Herald…A regional marketing group wants to ramp up efforts to bring 5 million new airline passengers into northwest Florida’s three major airports over the next 10 years, boosting the area’s vital hospitality industry.

Tourism pros and airport officials say the goal is ambitious but doable, despite an FAA estimate that U.S. air travel will increase only 2.2 percent per year through 2025.  The region currently receives about 2.5 million yearly travelers through its three regional airports at Panama City, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola. Buddy Runnels, chairman of Coastal Vision 3000, a nonprofit group of business, tourist and civic organizations, wants to triple that number.

“We want to move Northwest Florida from a regional destination to a national and international destination,” Runnels said. “We feel confident this is a realistic goal.” The view is echoed by both Dan Rowe, executive director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council, and Ken Paine, Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council chairman.

“I think that’s an ambitious goal, a lofty goal,” said Paine, saying the area was only “a couple of low-cost carriers away from attaining it.” 

‘Extend our reach’

Rowe said the 5 million-passenger target is  aggressive. But with a new Panama City-Bay County International Airport expected to open near West Bay in May 2010, the goal is not unrealistic, he added.  “We believe the new airport will help extend our reach,” Rowe said.

Bay County officials are hopeful the airport, with its longer 10,000-foot runway, will attract both low-cost carriers and international flights, helping funnel visitors into the entire region.  Runnels said the new airport could impact the economic growth of Northwest Florida as much as the Fort Myers area was influenced by the Southeast Florida International Airport, through which 8 million passengers passed in 2007.

The typical international traveler will stay in an area for 14 to 17 days, touring and sampling the region rather than staying in one town, Runnels said. Current marketing efforts need to move beyond the provincial and welcome a more regional view, he said.  “With the Internet, the new traveler views his visits differently,” Runnels said. “We want to embrace what the traveler is looking for. As we embrace our expanding markets, we will be working with the airports.”

Total air visitors to Florida declined by 3.1 percent in 2008 and fell 11.4 percent in the first quarter of recession-roiled 2009, according to the Web site The Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport recorded 678,736 passengers through June, a drop of 16.14 percent.  Greg Donovan, director of the Northwest Florida Regional Airport, said his facility has experienced a 3.91-percent decline in passenger traffic this year through June, with 386,986 passengers so far. Randy Curtis, executive director of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport, said the airport recorded 160,379 passengers though June 2009, down 7.39 percent from last year.

Seeking new tourists

Without committing themselves to specific numbers, both airport pros see opportunities in the years ahead.  “We believe our area has some tremendous attributes,” Donovan said. “We expect some great growth opportunities.”  Curtis agreed. “I think it is definitely possible that there will be opportunities for an increase,” especially with a new and larger airport, he said.

To stem the slowdown in air traffic, the Bay County Commission recently increased its tourism “bed tax” on short-term rentals from 3 cents to 5 cents, with $2.2 million yearly from the fifth cent going exclusively to encouraging air traffic into the new airport.  Walton County also recently raised its bed tax by a half-cent, with the additional funds dedicated to promoting the area to new national and international tourism markets.

Currently, Okaloosa County has Florida’s second-highest number of drive-in visitors, Paine said, with Bay County in third. Tourists driving from nearby states such as Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee make up about 88 percent of yearly Panama City Beach visitors, according to Rowe.  Bay County tourism officials already are gearing up for a marketing campaign aimed at taking advantage of the new airport.  “It’s very important for us not to lose focus of our drive customers,” Rowe said. “But we are very engaged in the regional marketing efforts going on. We believe we will be able to increase visitation by encouraging airline passengers.”

With the surge in condo development over the last five years, the area has the capacity to handle additional tourism, Rowe said. In fact, new tourists are needed just to uphold the status quo.  “I think we (the region) can definitely sustain an additional 5 million tourists,” Rowe said.

Donovan agreed. “Most people don’t know that we (the region) have more accommodations for rent than New York City,” he said. “We expect some great growth opportunities.”

Any thoughts or ideas for the PCB marketing effort?


3 responses to “Panama City Beach – Group wants 5 million new air passengers

  1. We had almost stopped visiting the PCB area because of the drive from Ky. It was more cost-effective and quicker to just fly to MCO (Orlando). We had planned to move to Orlando as well, but now that we’ve learned about the new airport; we’re planning to move to PCB area, open a business, bring our family, and retire in the area.
    We’re not expecting a perfect PCB area, but a more family-community-oriented place. A community with that resort feel. One that includes: concerts, athletic events, golf, tours, cultural events, and more.

    Marketing thoughts…

    A new log0, and new theme, a new vision.

    A strong police presence that conveys that “safety is paramount.” Great marketing idea…(Do you know that people talk about the lack of safety of people riding scooters haphazardly in the area?)….

    Marketing thoughts…Historically PCB has conveyed a negative tone as a result of the “Spring Break” crowd. Yet we know that this is a short-term event, that brings in revenue, and that if marketed correctly, can be tastefully displayed even in the media. This would be a start.

    A vision of offering a cruise-port would certainly open the door for additional growth in the area. We typically travel to Miami for the best cruise port, but clearly would appreciate a cruise port closer inland.

    Palm trees lining the streets from the beginning of the strip to the end. The vision, miles of white sand, and welcoming palm trees from beginning to end. Enviting wouldn’t you say?

    Market your golf courses.

    Include more indoor pools. We travel there in the winter as well. Make this a year-round place to visit. Make this a challenge! PCB rain or shine:)

    Ask your chamber to put our surveys in your hotels, restaurants, businesses,…This conveys that you really do care about the visitors input.

    There should be something that everyone sees as soon as they enter PCB and they will either talk about, tell someone else, or take a photo of for others to see. Consider a place just as you cross over into the PCB, a sign with two palm trees, with the beach in the background. A marker where everyone can have their photo made….

    Have a contest to create a new log0, theme, …go global with this one…talking about creating an excitement!

    Banish cheap, outdated and solicitation signs.

    Better directions and signage.

    Certainly many of these options have been tested and entertained at some point, but one has to decide if they are marketing to the people that live there, will potentially move there, or to the people who come and visit year after year..


  2. yeh right.. great post, Thank You

  3. I have to disagree with this need for tremendous growth. Not everyone wants another Miami or central – south Florida resort. Having spent most of my youth vacationing in Myrtle Beach, it was refreshing to see Panama City Beach in the mid – 1990s. There were some upscale resorts like Edgewater, yet you could drive up and down Front Beach and still see the gulf. The new high-rise construction has all but eliminated that. As for planting rows of palms everywhere, you will end up with that fake “Pier Park” look everywhere. We have been vacationing twice a year in PCB, but the overdevelopment may force us elsewhere.
    You can call me stupid, but three years ago I predicted there would be alot of unsold/unrented condos in PCB and sure enough, look around.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s