We are always looking for the best fares when we fly. And some of us are willing to drive hours to Jacksonville, Orlando, or Tampa to save a few bucks.
But with the new Panama City International airport ready to open in May, how many travelers from our area will head West---and how will another travel option affect the Tallahassee and Valdosta?
"We're going to be not only a drive market but a global market for tourism," said Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Beth Oltman.
That is what folks at the new Panama City International airport are hoping for. A new airport, bringing in a new wave of tourists from around the U.S. any beyond.
And they plan to do it with the arrival of Southwest Airlines. Serving four cities a day, Southwest is a major coup for Panama City--a new wave of competition for both the Tallahassee and Valdosta regional airports.
"Obviously competition is a good American asset here and we hope to get better rates here and pull in more people to this entire area," said Oltman.
"Anytime you have Southwest in the market, it'll keep everybody competitive. As an airport, we don't truly have control per say over pricing," said Patti Clark, Executive Director of the Valdosta Regional Airport.
Tallahassee and Valdosta pride themselves on business travelers. That is the clientele they hope to keep. What they stand to lose are the tourists who will now have another option---an option that wasn't always there before.
"We've been the poster child for higher airfares and how not to do it. Throughout the Panhandle," said Randy Curtis, Executive Director of the new Panama City International Airport, "Traditionally we've had the highest airfare, so we have had the situation where our passengers drive to other airports, even Tallahassee."
Officials from both Tallahassee and Valdosta regional airports feel that the new Panama City airport will actually help in the long run. Both airports hope to benefit as folks check out the entire North Florida and South Georgia region--pouring money into attractions in the capital city, Valdosta and cities in between.
"As the Panama City area develops and their leisure market increases and the other opportunities for economic development are there; there is a possibility based on analysis our consultants have done that it could spill into Tallahassee from an economic perspective," said Phil Inglese, Assistant Director of Aviation at Tallahassee Regional Airport, "We look at it as an overall positive for the region. "