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

by May 9, 2011 • 8 comments

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.



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