It would be great to be able to jump on a jet at Tampa International Airport and fly straight to Paris or Athens or Rio de Janeiro.
But nonstop international travel yields a lot more than convenience. It means big, big money.
New daily flights between Europe and Tampa would generate $89 million per year for the Tampa Bay economy, says SH&E, an aviation consulting firm hired by the airport. If you use a multiplier that accounts for the additional economic activity those dollars generate, the number jumps to an eye-popping $154 million.
The economic punch for nonstop flight from Central or Latin America would total $67 million a year using the multiplier, said Christina Cassotis, a vice president at SH&E, told members of Tampa International's governing board Thursday.
A route from Asia would generate a total of $145 million. But she added a major disclaimer: No airlines currently fly nonstop between Asia and Florida.
Under new CEO Joe Lopano, Tampa International officials are pressing to bring more nonstop international service. The list of nonstop destinations outside the continental United States and Canada is short: London, the Cayman Islands, Cancun and San Juan.
The Airport Board will hear later from consultants researching specific destinations and airlines to recruit. SH&E focused strictly on identifying the economic impact of flights from different regions of the globe.
Europe promises the biggest payoff because 77 percent of passengers on flights to Florida are Europeans, mostly tourists on vacation. "When they decide to come here ... they bring all these bags of euros,'' said Lopano. ''That's money that wasn't here the day before.''
The average European visitor stays in Tampa Bay 6.6 days and spends $1,005. But that typical tourist also spends 3.6 days of the trip elsewhere in Florida. Many fly into another airport, usually Orlando International.
"Obviously, they tend to value Tampa Bay, but not just you,'' said Cassotis. "Every market within an aircraft range is your competitor.''
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to landing more international service is TIA's proximity to bigger airports in Orlando and Miami, big tourist markets with lots of overseas air service
Al Austin, a Tampa developer who chairs the Airport Board, said he used to think Tampa International was fighting a losing battle.
"The growth opportunities are greater than I anticipated, he said.
Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8128.