Thursday, January 18, 2018
Business

Nonstop service from Tampa International to Panama City opens Latin America to Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Now more than ever, Tampa International Airport is living up to its name.

Panamanian carrier Copa Airlines announced Wednesday it will fly Tampa-to-Panama City four times a week, opening new travel and trade opportunities — and giving Tampa Bay its first-ever route to a major Latin American hub.

When airport CEO Joe Lopano took over in 2011, his mission was to restore overseas routes to Tampa. The airport had flights to Canada and Great Britain. Adding Cuba and Switzerland in the past two years were regular-season wins.

But Panama was the first pennant won by Lopano, as the Yankees' fan might put it. When he donned a brightly colored Panama hat and spoke at a news conference in the airport's main terminal, it was part pep rally, part victory lap.

"It's a great day because we are seeing ourselves achieve the greatness of an international city," Lopano said, "because of the vision and the teamwork that exists in this room today.

"We are going where we said we would go. We are doing what we said we would do."

In Copa — or Compañía Panameña de Aviación, S.A., — Tampa International has partnered with one of the world's most modern, fastest-growing and profitable airlines. Copa spent a decade transforming Tocumen International Airport into a major hub to Central and South America, giving that nation another international nexus to go along with the Panama Canal.

"It is the canal of the air," said Joseph Mohan, a senior vice president with Copa Airlines.

Copa handled more than 7 million passengers last year and serves 66 destinations in 29 countries. Now, bay area travelers can bypass Orlando or Miami and fly from Tampa to Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Caracas, Lima, Quito, Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo via Panama City.

"This is a big day for us," said D.T. Minich, the Pinellas County tourism chief. "Now it opens us up to Brazil. It opens up Colombia. It gets us into Panama and Argentina.

"This is the biggest thing to happen in 20 years."

That's because the bay area is desperate to improve international travel — and reap the economic benefits that go with it. According to Tampa International officials, every new daily nonstop international flight to a major city adds $154 million economic impact annually and helps generate 1,200 new jobs.

Tampa International had 504,790 international passengers in 2012. That same year, by comparison, Miami International saw 19.4 million.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the Copa route another in a series of victories for his city and the greater Tampa Bay region. He compared it to last year's Republican National Convention and next summer, when Tampa will host the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards — a.k.a. the Bollywood Oscars.

"From India to Europe to Panama, I'm here to tell you that it truly is our time," the mayor said. "We aren't asking anybody's permission anymore. All of these successes, and the faith and confidence that Copa Airlines has in us by virtue of this decision, sends a message all over the world: that Tampa is truly the gateway to the Americas."

Copa will depart Tampa at 7:02 a.m. four times a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Arrival time in Panama City will be 10:12 a.m. The return flight will leave Panama City on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 6:34 p.m. and arrive in Tampa at 9:53 p.m. Copa will fly Boeing Next-Generation 737-700s on the Tampa route, which will seat up to 124.

Minich believes travelers may find Tampa a more attractive departure point than bigger international hubs in Miami and Orlando. Those airports have direct routes to Central and South America, but Tampa is closer for bay area travelers and has much shorter customs lines.

"It can take up to three hours sometimes to clear customs in Miami," Minich said. "So clearing customs in Tampa is a complete breeze."

Copa signed a one-year contract with Tampa International. In exchange, the airline will receive $486,754 worth of airport fee waivers and marketing dollars to push the route.

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the Pinellas tourism agency, will contribute $200,000 in marketing dollars the first year and another $200,000 in the second. It will also start a new Latin American division solely to push tourism there.

Hillsborough's tourism agency, Visit Tampa Bay, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce also have promised tens of thousands worth of in-kind contributions to market the route. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. will lead several trade missions to Panama, the next one in February.

Lopano, airport staff and local officials spent 2½ years convincing Copa officials that there is enough demand for business travel to Latin America through Tampa Bay to justify the route.

But the contract is for just one year. Bay area leaders pledged to do everything they can to fill Copa's seats and convince the airline to renew the contract.

They are confident they will succeed. Copa has never backed out of a market, Mohan said.

"We guarantee your planes will be full," said Visit Tampa Bay chief Santiago Corrada.

Said Lopano: "We will not fail."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.

     
Comments
Tampa Bay doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

Tampa Bay doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

Amazon on Thursday released its list of location finalists for its second headquarters — and neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg is on it.Miami, however, made the short list of cities left vying for the new build. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties had ...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Here are Tampa Bay's priciest home sales in 2017

Here are Tampa Bay's priciest home sales in 2017

If there’s one word to describe the buyers of Tampa Bay’s 25 priciest homes in 2017 it’s this: eclectic. As in previous years, the group included doctors, lawyers and professional sports figures — three of the homes were purc...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Ace Hardware in Oldsmar has those hard to find home items

Ace Hardware in Oldsmar has those hard to find home items

When Vision ACE Hardware opened in Oldsmar last November, the very first customer came in looking for a light bulb that he couldn’t find anywhere else."We had that lightbulb," said Stone Ackroyd, marketing manager. "That’s what ACE does. We have thos...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Mellow Mushroom opens third locationin Wesley Chapel

Mellow Mushroom opens third locationin Wesley Chapel

LUTZ — Mellow Mushroom opened the doors to its new location this week in Wesley Chapel.This is the third location for owner Rob Johnson, who opened the Mellow Mushroom in Brandon 12 years ago, and then expanded to Clearwater.Johnson began looking at ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sweets, savories and surprises at Jules’ Place in southeast Seminole Heights

Sweets, savories and surprises at Jules’ Place in southeast Seminole Heights

Tampa native Julie Harris worked for the City of Tampa for 22 years, under four mayoral administrations, until retiring as director of communications and neighborhood liaison in 2003.Her familiarity with Southeast Seminole Heights and countless conta...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Popular Spanish cuisine restaurant joins Hyde Park food scene

Popular Spanish cuisine restaurant joins Hyde Park food scene

HYDE PARK—Featuring popular Spanish cuisine, Bulla Gastrobar compliments Soho and Hyde Park’s vibrant restaurant scene offering an authentic Madrid-inspired tapas dining experience to be shared among friends for brunch, lunch and dinner. "Tampa is gr...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Crystal Lagoon planners brace for chilly ribbon cutting today

Crystal Lagoon planners brace for chilly ribbon cutting today

WESLEY CHAPEL — Mother Nature seems to have a way of putting a chill on one of the hottest amenities in residential real estate development.Members of the business community, elected officials and officers with Metro Development Group and Crystal Lag...
Published: 01/18/18
Culver’s Restaurant opening two new Tampa Bay locations this spring

Culver’s Restaurant opening two new Tampa Bay locations this spring

Culver’s restaurant, a Wisconsin-based eatery, is expanding in Florida. The chain, known for its hamburgers and frozen custard, is opening new locations in St. Petersburg and Zephyrhills. A franchise agreement has also been signed for Brooksville. Cu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Associated PressSAN FRANCISCO — Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the United States that will be partially financed by an upcoming windfall f...
Published: 01/17/18
Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa called Wednesday for artists to send in their ideas for a big piece of public art for the outdoor plaza between one of the $3 billion project’s office buildings and the new University of South Florida Morsani College of Med...
Published: 01/17/18