Tampa International Airport is adding a fourth European flight to its growing line up: Reykjavík, Iceland.
Icelandair will offer nonstop flights to Keflavík International Airport near Reykjavík, Iceland's largest city and capital, twice a week to and from Tampa International Airport beginning Sept. 7, 2017. This is the Tampa airport's fourth international flight to Europe since 2011, when current CEO Joe Lopano was hired. The Icelandair announcement comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of Lufthansa's nonstop flight to and from Frankfurt at Tampa International Airport, which began last September.
Icelandair offers flights to 39 cities in 16 countries, including 18 destinations in the United States. The new flight to Tampa will be the carrier's second to Florida. Icelandair also offers service to Orlando International Airport. Icelandair is known for its stopover program, which encourages travelers from Europe or North America to "stop over" in Iceland on transatlantic flights for up to seven nights at no additional cost. The carrier's main hub is at Keflavík International Airport, where it offers connections to dozens of destinations around the world.
"We think that the residents of Tampa Bay will enjoy this special focus we provide on offering flights in between the U.S. and Canada and Europe," said Guðjón Arngrímsson, spokesman for Icelandair. "Iceland is an amazing country, and has grown incredibly as a tourist destination in the past few years. We are proud to represent Iceland in this way and to bring more tourists here."
Tourism to Iceland has surged recently, driving new tourists from the U.S. and Canada to explore the country. The number of visitors is expected to grow by 40 percent this year in Iceland, surpassing the 1.3 million visitor record from last year.
A recent study by the Icelandic tourist board showed that 90 percent of international tourists who visited the country during the 2015-2016 winter season said they are likely to return. American tourists made up the majority of the survey's international participants, doubling the size of travelers from England, which was the second largest group. The most popular destination listed in the survey was Reykjavík.
Tourism boosters in Tampa Bay see the new flight as another way to draw more European tourists here.
"The truth is, this is not about Iceland," said David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County's tourism agency. "This is about the connectivity Iceland has to Europe and on to Florida. Icelandair flies into major international hubs in Europe where our largest group of international visitation comes from. This dovetails very nicely with the other air service that has come to Tampa recently."
Arngrímsson said that Icelandair studied the Tampa market for years before investing in the route.
"We've been very lucky in the past 6 to 7 years growing our network of destinations steadily and profitably. We are looking for destinations and airports that have something different to offer, like us," he said, noting that flights to western destinations like Seattle, Portland, Denver and Vancouver have been particularly successful for the carrier.
The nonstop flight from Tampa to Keflavík will be around seven hours. The Tampa flight will leave on Mondays and Thursdays at 6:55 p.m. in Tampa and arrive the following morning in Iceland at 6:10 a.m. Return service departs Keflavík at 5:10 p.m. on Sundays and Wednesdays with same-day arrival in Tampa at 9 p.m. Flights will run about $600 round trip.
"There are few air carriers out there that offer a stopover program like Icelandair," said Ken Qualls, CEO of Flight Management Solutions in Boca Raton. "Reykjavík is a safe place, which is making it a popular tourism destination right now. It's convenient too, if you don't want to travel all the way to Europe."
Since his arrival at the airport in 2011, Tampa airport CEO Joe Lopano has added a slew of new flights.
The first nonstop flights between Tampa and Cuba in a half-century started in 2011 with a charter service. Tampa's first nonstop flight to continental Europe in 15 years came with the new service to Zurich, Switzerland on Edelweiss Air in 2012. Copa Airlines' service to Panama City, which began in 2013, was Tampa Bay's first nonstop flight to a major Latin American hub. A flight to Frankfurt on Lufthansa in 2015 connected Tampa Bay to one of the largest international airports in the world. Tampa will become one of the first cities in the U.S. to offer direct commercial service to Cuba soon on Southwest Airlines. United Airlines announced earlier this year that will offer nonstop service to San Francisco from Tampa.
"It's a great get for Tampa," Qualls said about Icelandair. "I believe Tampa is benefiting from nearby airports being saturated with international travel, like Orlando and Miami. The demographics are fairly similar across the state, and it's a much better option to start a new route there than to force travelers to connect in Atlanta."
Lufthansa's service from Tampa to Frankfurt was iconic for the region — it was billed to bring more international tourists and become a pipeline for building an international business community in Tampa Bay. The flight has been overwhelmingly successful in its first year with 113,491 passengers, according to data from the Tampa airport.
Lufthansa has consistently posted load factors, or the percentage of filled seats on airplanes, in the high 80 and 90 percentiles since the flight began last year.
"We heard a lot of great news about the profitability of the flight and its impressive load factors," said Downing, who recently visited Frankfurt to meet with Lufthansa executives. "The Tampa flight is being compared to the Orlando flight, which has been flying daily there for 16 years. That speaks volumes about us as a destination. It would make sense that the next step would be to expand the service. I think the market could easily handle it."
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.