This article first appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, April 16, 2017.
I’ve discussed recently the many changes that are coming to our local tourist business — generational changes, increases in fly-in visitors, a demand for better level of service and value, etc. I think we’re all surprised by the speed of these changes, thinking that it will take years for them to actually affect our daily lives. However, look how fast Uber, Airbnb and similar new products have altered the landscape.
Back at the end of March, British Airways started to fly non-stop to New Orleans from London, bringing four flights a week. Later in May, Condor, the German airline, will have two flights a week from Frankfurt. While British Airways is banking on a mix of business and leisure travelers, Condor is aimed squarely at the vacation market. These two new routes add to the already existent Toronto flights, routing vacationers into the northern Gulf of Mexico region. There may be no immediate effect on Northwest Florida, apparently giving plenty of planning time.
This article was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday January 14, 2017.
When I was 16, one of my greatest goals was to learn to drive. I bought an old car to do up when I was 15 and had my first driving lesson the day I became legally eligible. My friends did the same. During my late-teens and twenties (in the UK), my friends and I thought nothing of driving all over Europe for our vacations. Evidently it was the same here in the United States, and that had a particular effect on the Emerald Coast tourism business.
Well over 90 percent of Emerald Coast leisure visitors drive to our piece of paradise, with many loading up the car and driving 10 or 15 hours to visit. It’s been that way for 40 years.
Like everything else in tourism, things are changing. My children live in New Zealand – one is 28, the other 24 – and neither can drive or have any wish to learn. The same thing is happening in the U.S. The Federal Highway Administration reports that every demographic is losing interest in driving. Between 2011 and 2014, two particular age groups – 16-year-olds and those in the 20-24 range – stopped getting driver’s licenses. For 17-year-olds, the percentage of licensed individuals fell from 45 percent to 44.9 percent. Similar reductions happened across all age groups.