Jacksonville Makes Play for Additional Airlift

The Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau has formed a coalition with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the CVBs of other North Florida destinations, area conference hotels and the Jacksonville Port Authority that will work with the airline industry to increase the airlift into Jacksonville International Airport.

The coalition, over the next few months, will bring airline executives to Jacksonville for a first-hand look at North Florida's tourism infrastructure.

Jacksonville CVB president John Reyes said the lobbying effort would be aimed at increasing flights from existing airlines like Airtran and Delta — the two biggest carriers at JAX — and attracting new airlines, especially those that can provide non-stop service to major hub cities. The coalition also will focus on bringing in more flights from the West Coast and the Midwest.

"We know the lack of airlift has been a limiting factor that has not only affected meeting and conference groups but hotel occupancy and the development of the industry in North Florida," said Reyes. "We have banded together to do something about that problem."

An advantage that the Jacksonville Port Authority brings to the coalition is that it has the ability to reduce or waive landing fees as part of financial incentives to bring in new flights, Reyes noted.

He said the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce waged a similar, two-year promotional campaign that resulted in JetBlue's decision to start service to the city. The airline in March began three weekly non-stop flights to and from New York. "These kinds of efforts can be successful," Reyes said.

Since becoming president of the Jacksonville CVB 14 months ago, Reyes has put together several tourism coalitions, including the Northeast Florida Regional Marketing Alliance with the CVBs and chambers of commerce of nearby destinations St. Augustine and Amelia Island.

Planner Brandon Wood, president of Jacksonville-based First Coast Arrangements, said that while he would like to see more airlift, he thinks having more hotel rooms and a bigger convention center are more pressing needs.

"Right now our average convention group size in Jacksonville is about 400 attendees," Wood said. "The average convention group in Orlando is something like 2,500 attendees. I think the size of our convention facilities and conference hotels have more to do with that than airlift."