Will flight delays mean less crowded Tampa Bay beaches - WNCT

Will flight delays mean less crowded Tampa Bay beaches this summer?

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Delays at airports due to the government sequester could eventually wind up hurting some tourist destinations, but the timing means the Tampa Bay area's beaches might be spared.

"If there are fluctuations in airlines and wait times - or something that might affect air travel - we won't be as affected as places like Miami, for example," said David Downing, Deputy Director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater. "Upwards of 90 percent of their tourism comes in on an airplane."

In contrast, Downing says, about 80 percent of this area's summer traffic comes by car.

"Just like gas prices: People say 'if gas goes up a dollar a gallon - will people stop driving in for the summertime?' Probably not. If it goes up $5.00, $10.00 a gallon ... maybe," Downing said. "The same thing is true for the possibility of airline delays. An hour or so delay - everyone expects that. A couple hours? Everyone expects that. Four or five hours - it might be the breaking point. No one really knows where the breaking point is so everyone is watching very carefully."

It's coming at a time when the area is seeing another great year for tourism: up over 11% since last year, which was record-breaking as well.

"Last year we saw more first time visitors than ever: 1.1 million and that's a sign of a really strong tourism market," Downing said.

March numbers aren't in yet but it is traditionally the single-largest tourism month for Clearwater and St. Petersburg, according to Downing.

Although Tampa's airport seemed to be impacted by the federal furloughs, Scot Allen, who's in from Des Moines, Iowa, said no delay will make a difference in his vacation plans this summer.

"You're always going to have a hiccup when you travel," Allen said. "So it's not going to affect me whatsoever."

Mike Shultis, who lives near Woodstock, New York, felt the same way and is planning on coming back to Florida again.

"The publicity that they're putting on up north for the beaches from beaches in Mississippi, Alabama ... all the way through the panhandle ... for the Gulf that BP has been doing has been hitting the airwaves up there pretty heavy and those white sand beaches look pretty darn good on the TV," he said.

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