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Allegiant posts another good year at St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport

Vacationers board an Allegiant nonstop flight to Lexington, Ky., at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2009)

Vacationers board an Allegiant nonstop flight to Lexington, Ky., at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International.

The airline that keeps the lights on at Pinellas County's biggest commercial airport gave tourism officials an upbeat message Wednesday.

"We're on a roll,'' Allegiant Air sales director John Fenyes told the county's Tourist Development Council. "I'd like to keep that momentum.''

Allegiant customers make up 93 percent of travelers going through St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. The jets take off at least 90 percent full on flights to 21 cities, mostly in the Midwest and Southeast. The company nearly doubled sales of area hotel rooms on its website in 2010 over last year, Fenyes said.

Allegiant came to the local market in late 2006 with an unusual strategy: flying vacationers from small cities nonstop to vacation destinations. The carrier typically flies routes only two or three times a week. Allegiant charged extra fees — for checked bags, food and drinks, even making reservations on its website — years before major airlines embraced the idea.

Low base fares attract those who otherwise might vacation closer to home or not travel. When Allegiant entered new markets, average airline fares to Tampa Bay dropped 50 percent, said Brian Davis, the airline's director of airport planning. The number of passengers nearly tripled.

Allegiant likes Tampa Bay's strong connections with Midwesterners, Davis said. The airline keeps a close eye on expenses, he said, and appreciated how the airport completed a $21 million terminal renovation using federal and state money almost exclusively.

In an industry known for riding economic ups and downs, Allegiant has posted profits every quarter since 2003.

The Pinellas airport handled 776,000 passengers in 2010, down only 400 from a year earlier, said director Noah Lagos. For comparison, Tampa International Airport had 16.6 million passengers for the year, off 320,000 or 1.9 percent, from 2009.

"It's good to see we have some stability,'' Lagos said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8128.

Flat year in tourism

Despite a cold start to the year and the scare over BP's oil spill, Pinellas tourism ended up in the black for 2010. Barely. Just more than 5 million overnight visitors came to the county, an increase of nearly 50,000, or 1 percent, over last year. Big losses in tourists from Europe and the Northeast were offset by more Midwesterners and Floridians. But hotel were forced to discount heavily to fill their rooms.

Allegiant posts another good year at St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport 02/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 1:27pm]
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