Finally, Lee County Looking For UK Direct Flights
Finally, Lee County Florida is courting UK airlines for direct air service to SouthWest Florida International airport. Our friends and clients will be thrilled if the county and Port Authority are successful in getting UK-Fort Myers direct flights.
From the News Press – Sept 3 2009
BY LAURA RUANE
Local airport leaders are stepping up their courtship of the United Kingdom.
Late Sunday, Lee County Commission Chairman Ray Judah and two airport staffers returned from a trip to Dublin and London, where they paid visits to representatives from three airlines and several tour operators.
Of the estimated 275,000 UK residents who come each year to the Sunshine State, only about 11 percent arrive at Southwest Florida International, according to data from Visit Florida and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Obviously, most of these travelers are visiting the mouse first, and then driving over here,” Judah said, alluding to Disney theme parks in Orlando. “We want them to have a direct path to Southwest Florida International.”
The airport has no direct or nonstop flights to the United Kingdom, but has had scheduled service to Germany since 1994.
This has gained the region not only European tourists, but part-time residents who buy homes and support commerce here, Judah said. He thinks the area also is a sure bet for the Irish and the British, because of its affordable homes, “quality of life and ease of travel.”
In June, an estimated 8,270 guests from the United Kingdom stayed in paid lodgings in Lee County, according to research for Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. That’s up 24.4 percent over June of 2008. UK guests comprised 4 percent of the county’s total lodging users in June, just one percent more than a year ago.
Direct or nonstop flights between the UK and Fort Myers “would be fantastic,” said Glyn Raven, who hails from Manchester, England, but who now lives in the Verandah community east of Fort Myers.
Raven flies to U.S. hub airports in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia for direct flights to his hometown. Unless the new service were to Manchester, he’s not sure he’d use it much.
It might make it easier to get his octogenarian parents here for visits, Raven said, adding airport leaders “are thinking more about getting people here from the UK.”
The three airlines the Lee County delegation visited were Aer Lingus, Ryanair and British Airways, Judah said. His travel companions were Carol Obermeier and Brian Solis of Lee County Port Authority aviation market development. In London, they teamed up with the county visitor bureau’s U.K.-based employee.
Airlines didn’t commit to new service, “but we have determined how we can get creative with airlines that have an open mind,” Judah said.
The Lee County Port Authority is picking up the tab for the nine-day trip. It cost about about $5,000 per person, including airfare, ground transportation, lodging and meals, said Victoria Moreland, airport spokeswoman. The airport authority derives its income from rents and fees charged tenants and a portion of concessionaire sales.
Obermeier and her staff travel frequently in the United States and abroad, working to entice new air service. It’s far less common for Judah, who estimated he’s made fewer than five international business trips during his 21 years as county commissioner.
“When you talk to an airline, it’s nice to have an elected government official along, especially someone with Ray’s experience,” said Obermeier, aviation market development director.
On Sept. 14, Judah and colleagues on the commission will vote on an amended air service incentives package that would broadly expand the potential for temporarily lifting landing fees for carriers offering new nonstop international flights to and from Fort Myers.