Tourism officials focus marketing efforts overseas to attract visitors on new flights to Zurich

As Tampa International Airport celebrates its first new European service in 15 years, tourism officials here are working hard to make the flights a big a deal over there.

That's because they expect most of the passengers on the twice weekly round trips to Zurich to come from Switzerland and Germany.

To lure them, tourism and economic development agencies have kicked in about $800,000 to promote the flights on Edelweiss Air. That has bought, among other things, 300 billboards scattered around Switzerland and Germany promoting Tampa Bay.

And the travel website Expedia will offer Europeans vacation packages to the bay area.

The inaugural flight arrives Friday evening, and the airport will welcome the first passengers with a Swiss- and beach-themed celebration in the main terminal.

"It's really a team effort, and everybody is working together to make sure (the flight) is successful," said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink.

Tampa International is giving Edelweiss $500,000 in cash and fee waivers over two years. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater will contribute $140,000 to promote the flights in Switzerland over the same period. Tampa Bay & Co., Hillsborough County's quasi-public tourism agency, kicked in $60,000.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce offered free event sponsorships and event promotions valued at $175,000.

The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. scripted a two-year business recruitment plan and will help Edelweiss pay to carry it out.

"This is a big push and we want to make sure that there is a big splash," said Bob Rohrlack, CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

The Edelweiss Air flights, with a capacity of about 300 passengers, are scheduled for Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the summer, and only on Fridays throughout the winter. The flights are estimated to bring in about $32 million in annual economic benefit and create about 265 jobs in Tampa Bay.

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd called the new service "vacation flights," since the majority of passengers will begin their trips in Zurich rather than Tampa. The popularity of the new flights will depend on the popularity of the vacation packages offered in Europe.

"It all has to do with vacation traffic," Boyd said.

D.T. Minich, the executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, who is in Zurich now and will arrive back in Tampa on the inaugural flight, said his organization has been working closely with Expedia, Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency and Brand USA, the federal organization that encourages more travel to the United States, to put together vacation packages for visitors.

Sixty-five of the passengers on Friday's flight will be travel agents from Germany, Italy and Switzerland, who will have the opportunity to visit all of the bay area's major attractions.

"This is huge for us," Minich said. "We really want them to experience all the area has to offer."

Officials at Tampa International have been working hard to boost the airport's anemic number of international flights. The airport's first airline incentives program was created with the arrival of CEO Joe Lopano about 18 months ago.

Including the Edelweiss flights, TIA boasts just 34 international flights a week. Orlando International and Orlando Sanford International, the airport's closest neighbors of comparable size, combined offer more than 200.

That makes this flight to Zurich all the more sweet to Tampa International.

Now, the airport just needs passengers to buy tickets.

"There is nothing that will have an airline withdraw its service faster than poor passenger volumes and poor revenue numbers," said Stuart Klaskin, an aviation consultant in Miami.

Edelweiss Air

Edelweiss Air flights are scheduled for Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the summer, and only on Fridays throughout the winter. A basic fare in July costs about $1,236, compared to the $1,312 for the daily British Airways flight from London to Tampa.

Headquarters: Zurich

Founded: Oct.19, 1995

Fleet: Six planes

Destinations: 50

Tourism officials focus marketing efforts overseas to attract visitors on new flights to Zurich 05/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 1:14pm]

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