Lufthansa begins nonstop flights from Tampa to Germany next week, a service that will open up Tampa Bay to the world, and the world to residents of Tampa Bay.
Tampa airport officials and tourism boosters are betting that Lufthansa's new flights to Frankfurt will bring in even more international tourists and become a pipeline for building an international business community in the region. For locals, it means convenient one-stop, one-airline service to major destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Lufthansa's first flight to Tampa lands next Friday afternoon. The return flight to Frankfurt that evening will land at one of the world's busiest airports: Frankfurt has 108 airlines that fly to 295 cities in 105 countries. That, said Tampa International CEO Joe Lopano, opens doors to new destinations worldwide for Tampa Bay.
"Business people and leisure folks in Tampa have a one-stop connection to South Africa, Copenhagen, Prague, Budapest. Basically all of Europe and the Middle East," Lopano said. "Suddenly Tampa has become very accessible and robust in the connections we have around the globe."
If nothing else, the new Lufthansa flight eliminates the hassle of a connecting trip to major international hubs like Atlanta that don't have the same kind of customer satisfaction ratings the Tampa airport does, said Ken Qualls, CEO of Flight Management Solutions in Boca Raton.
Tampa travelers will be able to pass through customs in their home airport, too.
"Lufthansa is one of the better airlines in the world in terms of service and safety," Qualls said. "It will service quite a few German tourists who want to come to the beaches, and it will be an asset to the growing German population that lives in Florida."
Its only real Gulf Coast competitor will be an international flight to and from Dusseldorf, Germany, in Fort Myers where Air Berlin has been flying directly for more than 20 years, Qualls said. Orlando and Miami airports offer a variety of international flights.
Lufthansa has traditionally been an airline that caters mostly to a business traveler, but that will change starting in Tampa, said Don Bunkenburg, managing director of sales in the U.S. for Lufthansa.
"In the past we've focused primarily on the business traveler and what kind destinations serve this traveler's needs," Bunkenburg said. "But we see the next area of real growth coming from leisure travelers and have adapted a new strategy to prepare for that."
That includes modifying the Airbus A340-300 airplane flying to Tampa, which will have more economy class seating and slightly fewer business class seats than its traditional cabins to accommodate more family and leisure travelers, he said. The plane has 298 seats — 18 business class seats, 19 premium economy seats and 261 economy class seats.
Germany is Tampa Bay's third-largest international market, accounting for 11.6 percent of all foreign visitors and Germans tend to spend more during their trips here than other international travelers, too, said Patrick Harrison, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's tourism marketing agency. And more are coming here every year, he said.
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"This new flight has the potential for us to reach a good 20 percent of the planet where people haven't been able to get here easily before," Harrison said. He projects the new flight will bring 1,500 people a week who have never had easy access to Tampa Bay. "That could really change the face of tourism here," Harrison said.
Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, Pinellas County's tourism arm, saw a 15.7 percent increase in the number of European travelers from 2011 to 2014. Local tourism boosters have spent 30 years attracting German tourists here and nearly a decade trying to lure Lufthansa. It took $1.5 million in waived airport fees and incentives to finally get them here.
Beyond tourism, Lopano sees the new Lufthansa flight as a way to attract more international business to Tampa Bay.
"There is no other business environment the size of Tampa on the west coast of Florida," Lopano said. "And with our close proximity to Latin America, it makes a lot of sense to do business here and set up branch and regional offices."
The new service to Germany is the Tampa airport's third major international carrier to expand its reach to new destinations around the world in recent years. Edelweiss began service to Zurich in 2012. The next year Copa Airlines added direct flights to Panama City, and easy connection to scores of Latin American destinations.
A 2011 Tampa Bay Partnership report showed that 66 German companies operate locally, which is third internationally behind Great Britain and Canada. The German American Chamber of Commerce of Florida is also headquartered in Tampa.
"We're already hearing stories from local companies in Tampa about how this is going to change their business as it facilitates access to so many different international markets. Especially India," said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. "This is big news for us, and it will help us significantly in our efforts to attract new companies to Tampa Bay."
Contact Justine Griffin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.