TAMPA — Tampa International Airport is starting to put the "international" back in its name.
The airport saw a 20 percent jump in international passengers in the first seven months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to data the airport released Friday.
That means that 51,000 more passengers have used Tampa as an international hub so far in 2012 than did so last year. That brings this year's total of international passengers to 309,000.
In July alone, the airport saw a 30 percent jump in international travelers. That's an increase of 9,737 passengers compared to the same month last year.
Most of that new business is owed to the establishment of new flights to two international cities the airport wasn't serving: Zurich, Switzerland, and Havana.
These new routes come with an economic benefit.
"International travelers spend more and stay longer," said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink.
The Cuba flights are expected to generate an additional $650,000 in revenue for the airport this year. From January to April, airport officials estimate that the duty-free shop brought in an extra $332,000.
But other international flights are doing well, too. British Airways saw a 9 percent increase as of July, up to 90,457 passengers. Air Canada reported an 8 percent increase, now up to 100,475 passengers.
Increasing international travel is one of the airport's biggest goals under TIA's chief executive officer, Joe Lopano, who was hired 18 months ago to expand that key market. There are two nonstop flights to Zurich every week and five to Cuba, giving Tampa seven extra international flights a week.
The first big get was Edelweiss Air. Tampa lured the Zurich airline from Orlando International Airport, and it began serving the area in May. It was Tampa International's first new nonstop European service in 15 years.
"We're working on more," Lopano said. "This is something that generally takes years to get done. You're asking people to commit $150 (million), $200 million in assets to your market. That requires a long-term investment in a relationship with them. This is something that takes years.
"For us to get Edelweiss quickly was very heartening."
International travel is also an economic multiplier that can ripple across the Tampa Bay area. According to the airport's own research, one nonstop daily flight to a major European and South American city can generate $154 million and create 1,200 jobs in the Tampa Bay area.
But the improved international market has not significantly boosted the total number of passengers at Tampa International, which remained flat at 10,118,060 people as of July. That's an increase of just 37,754 passengers compared to the first seven months of 2011.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.