How the Tampa Bay region is selling itself on the global stage

May 6, 2016

Frances McMorris | Tampa Bay Business Journal

Opportunities for Tampa Bay to play a bigger role in the global marketplace was the focus of the Tampa Bay Export Alliance’s International Town Hall on Friday.

The Alliance showed how collaboration between leaders of various Tampa entities led to economic progress — from more international flights at Tampa International Airport to the effect of the Panama Canal on Port Tampa Bay to attracting more tourists via Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

At TIA, Edelweiss Air is celebrating four years in this market, with flights between Zurich and Tampa.

“We started with a small group of visionary people,” said Michael Trestl, head of corporate development for Edelweiss. “We sat together and worked out a plan,” he said referring to the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and representatives from the airport.

In the first two years of operations, there were doubts that Edelweiss would stay in Tampa once its initial incentive program expired, Trestl said.

“Many voices in the general public said well Edelweiss, they are coming to grab the money. They are going to say thanks and bye.” But four years later, Trestl noted, Edelweiss is still flying in and out of TIA.

Edelweiss has gone from two flights per week seasonally in 2013 to three weekly flights year round and in 2016, the airline has gone up to four weekly seasonal flights. Edelweiss is part of Lufthansa Airlines, the German airline that began service between Frankfurt and Germany last fall.

“It worked and it is still working,” Trestl said.

Edelweiss has brought more than 100,000 passengers to Tampa, including 40,00 tourists from Switzerland. That has translated into nearly $100 million since the airline’s 2012 launch in the Tampa market. With active marketing in Switzerland by Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete-Clearwater and the support of TIA, Edelweiss is averaging annual growth here of 152 percent and total market growth since 2012 of 530 percent. “Our intention is to grow in Tampa,” Trestl said.

Chris Minner, TIA’s vice president of marketing, said not only is the airport celebrating the fourth anniversary of Edelweiss coming to the area, TIA has also hit another milestone — a 100 percent increase in international passengers.

“We now have one-stop access to Bahrain because of Lufthansa,” he said.

The Latin American market continues to grow for TIA in part because of additional flights in the last two years by Copa Airlines, Minner said. Recruiting new airlines has not stopped and TIA is also trying to get direct flights to San Francisco, Minner said in response to a question.

“It has been uniquely frustrating,” he said. “Even though we don’t have nonstop flights, we’re talking to all the airlines that serve that market.”

Creating a link between California and Tampa is also on the mind of the official tourism marketing groups for the area. David Downing, executive director ofVisit St. Pete-Clearwater, has placed sales representatives in California. “There should be air service to San Francisco,” he said.

Downing also said China is being targeted with a mission next Tuesday to Shenzhen, one of China’s largest industrial centers. Meanwhile Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay said, “Mexico is super important. We think there’s a lot of travel potential.”

More than 2,000 Tampa area companies engage in exporting goods, said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development. “If you are not exporting now, you’re leaving money on the table,” he said.

“With the airport’s connections via Copa [Airlines] to Latin America and the Port’s proximity to the Panama Canal and Latin America, it is no surprise that we have strong export ties with countries like Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, Brazil and other Latin American nations,” said J.P. DuBuque, interim president and CEO of Tampa-Hillsborough Development Corp. “We will work to help local companies strengthen their export business in those nations as well as other strong European trading partners such as the [United Kingdom] and Germany.”

Paul Anderson, president and CEO of Port Tampa Bay, said the port is “looking to build upon Mexico” and other countries in Latin America. He noted that Port Tampa Bay is 10 times as large as PortMiami and even though Miami will lead Tampa when it comes to cruises, he predicted that his port will hit new records in the cruise and container business.

The Alliance was formed two years ago as a collaboration between Pinellas County Economic Development, the Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., Port Tampa Bay and TIA.