Tampa International Airport and the prospect of two new luxury hotels promise to make the region an even hotter tourism destination.

The pressure is on in 2018 for Tampa International Airport to match or surpass a strong year of passenger growth and move into the second phase of its massive $2.6 billion, multiyear master plan. A flurry of new flights and destinations were announced in 2017, with several actually starting up this year.

TIA’s largest carrier by passenger numbers, Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV), is launching a new nonstop route connecting Tampa with San Diego beginning Jan. 8.

Southwest is also introducing new, seasonal nonstop service to Omaha once a week on Saturdays. The flights to Omaha’s Eppley Airfield begin March 10 and run through April 28.

On Feb. 15, Spirit Airlines (NASDAQ: SAVE) will start nonstop service from Columbus, Ohio’s John Glenn Columbus International Airport to Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas and Fort Myers. The Tampa flights by the Miramar-based, ultra-low-cost carrier will run daily and end April 11 before resuming Nov. 8. Spirit is also adding to Tampa’s West Coast service with daily, year-round flights beginning April 12 to Los Angeles International Airport as well as to McCarran International Airport, which serves Las Vegas.

A new route to Salt Lake City, which began Dec. 21, 2017 on Delta Airlines (NYSE: DAL), is taking a short hiatus from service between Jan. 4, and Feb. 15 for fleet maintenance. After that, Delta will resume regular service.

On the international side, Copa Airlines (NYSE: CPA) is increasing its nonstop service between TIA and Panama City to daily flights beginning July 17. This increases the flights from four days a week to daily flights and allows passengers to make more connections to destinations such as Guayaquil and Quito in Ecuador; Bogota and Medellin in Colombia; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Lima, Peru, among many other major cities in Latin America.

TIA executives are still aiming for a number of new international destinations this year, including: Manchester, England; Amsterdam; Dublin, Ireland; Mexico City; Lima, Peru and Bogota, Colombia. In fact, several weeks ago, Kenneth Strickland, TIA’s director of research and air service development, went to Bogota and met with officials from Avianca S.A., that country’s national airline.

Meanwhile, Phase 1 of the airport’s master plan is expected to be finished by the middle of the year. While 80 percent, or 55 of the 69 new retail and dining establishments, began operations at TIA by the end of 2017, all the new concessions are expected to be in place when the first quarter concludes. The 12 SkyConnect cars continue to undergo testing on the 1.4-mile automated people mover that links the airport’s main terminal to the soon-to-be-completed consolidated rental car center.

All that will give way to the $543 million Phase 2 of the master plan. Among the many projects in Phase 2 is the Gateway Development Area that is comprised of a 240,000-square-foot, eight-story office building plus a gas station, convenience store, two hotels and 20,000 square feet of other retail space — costing more than $121.7 million. Phase 2 also includes new passenger pickup and drop-off curbsides with express lanes for travelers who aren’t checking bags.

By early December, the airport had received five bids on the Gateway project.

HOTELS

Tampa Bay continues to see its reputation rise with upscale visitors, especially now that two luxury hotels are slated for construction.

The 26-story, 519-room JW Marriott at 10 Water Street Tampa will be part of the $3 billion, mixed-use district between the Channel district waterfront and central business district in downtown Tampa. The area is being developed by Strategic Property Partners, the real estate company controlled by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment LLC.

Tampa Bay has become known for hosting large-scale conventions and events such as the College Football Playoff National Championship in early 2017, the Republican National Convention in 2012 and four Super Bowls with another one coming in 2021.

With the new hotel at 10 Water Street being placed near the Marriott Waterside, that means almost 1,200 keys will be in close proximity to the convention center. The result is that Tampa will get the ability to book more convention business under the same brand — Marriott International (NASDAQ: MAR).

Meanwhile, in Pinellas County, another JW Marriott — a 166-room, 15-story hotel accompanied by 36 luxury condos known as “The Residences” — is being planned. The $120 million development on Clearwater Beach represents the first five-star hotel in that area.

By: Frances McMorris, Reporter – Tampa Bay Business Journal