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Fewer airline seats a bad sign for tourism

Florida's tourism industry feasted when airlines fought to fly leisure travelers here from New York and Boston for $59 a few years back.

Now that airlines are cutting schedules and raising fares, guess who's feeling queasy?

Most of the capacity reductions — flying smaller planes, reducing frequencies and, at worst, eliminating routes — kick in after Labor Day. Airlines are still tweaking their plans, but the picture looks pretty bleak.

Airlines will fly 10.5 percent fewer seats to Tampa International from September through December of this year than they did in 2007.

It's worse for Orlando, where the carriers will cut capacity 13.7 percent for the same period.

A study released last week by PKF Hospitality Research on the connection between lost flights and empty hotel rooms gave no comfort to the tourism business. Reductions already in place will put a bigger dent in lodging demand than the industry suffered after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Destinations like Orlando, Phoenix and Denver will get hit hardest because they count so much on tourists seeking cheap fares, said PKF president Mark Woodworth. The Tampa Bay area, with a bigger share of business travelers, "should be much less vulnerable,'' he said.

What can the tourism industry do?

Orlando tourism marketers and businesses with skin in the game — hotels, attractions and Orlando International Airport — launched a group called Air Team Orlando to brainstorm strategies for bolstering air service.

Maybe package discount hotel rooms and theme park tickets with air travel? Or steering carriers to convention and meeting business?

Anyone listening over here?

Fewer seats coming for airline travelers

Tampa International -10.5%

Orlando International -13.7%

Miami International -3.5%

Schedules of flights for September to December 2008 compared with flights from September to December 2007. Figures represent number of seats that airlines are scheduled to fly.

Sources: APGDat, Tampa International Airport

Fewer airline seats a bad sign for tourism 07/15/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 20, 2008 8:21am]
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