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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 19, 2015 6 years ago

Overseas might

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Lufthansa begins direct flights from Tampa to Frankfurt in September, connecting the Gulf Coast to Europe in ways it's never done before.
by: Michael Hinman Tampa Bay Reporter

Lufthansa begins direct flights from Frankfurt to Tampa International Airport in September, joining both Miami and Orlando with direct European flights.

Over the next few months, the German airline will ramp up its marketing efforts publicizing the four weekly flights. Europe travelers will learn why they should consider putting the Gulf Coast on the top of their destination lists, while Florida residents will discover that Lufthansa is not just about Germany, but the rest of the world.

The executive spearheading those efforts in the United States is Donald Bunkenburg, managing director of corporate sales and regions for North America. Bunkenburg has worked with the airline for more than 21 years, beginning as a senior manager for key accounts in the United States.

Bunkenburg was the keynote speaker at an international town hall hosted by the Tampa Bay Export Alliance in May in St. Petersburg. The alliance is a joint venture between the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and Pinellas County Economic Development, and has worked hand in hand to make the Tampa Bay region more attractive to businesses and tourists around the world.

The following are excerpts of Bunkenburg's chat with the Business Observer about what can be expected with the new flights, and where it all might go from there.

NO OBSTACLES: One of the keys to attracting new companies and subsidiaries is easy access to points not just around the country, but around the globe. “If you have non-stops or easy connections into certain places, businesses look for that,” Bunkenburg says. “They look for connectivity to other places, especially if you want to grow internationally. If you have to transfer more than twice, they are not going to do it.”

FINDING THE HUB: While Lufthansa's flights from Tampa will land in Frankfurt, that's just the beginning. Access to other places is easy. Letting everyone know about it? That's hard. “When people think of Lufthansa, it's because they want to go to Germany,” Bunkenburg says. “That's a misperception. We serve over 100 destinations in Europe alone. And we go to the Middle East, India and Johannesburg. Sharing that is a challenge I think we always have.”

PRINT IS KING: Many airlines take to the television airwaves when it comes to advertising, but Lufthansa has a different approach in sharing its brand. “We focus mostly on print media, and sometimes we also do radio,” Bunkenburg says. “We're also always working with the trades, doing informational seminars with travel agents, and trying to stay involved in business groups to make sure the word on us is out.”

LONG VACATION: Lufthansa and other airlines already offer direct flights to Florida, popular for tourists. But attractions in Orlando and Miami are known throughout the world. The Gulf Coast might not be Disney, but its beaches and amenities are nothing to scoff at. “Europeans normally have six weeks of vacation, and they like to spend money,” Bunkenburg says. “It's a good group to have in the area.”

PLAY TO WORK: Using Florida as a vacation destination can also have benefits beyond tourism dollars. It introduces the state's other offerings, especially when it comes to business. “The perception in many areas is that Florida is the place to go to lay in the sun and to have fun,” Bunkenburg says. “But there is some important outreach happening here, in terms of different communities, the chambers of commerce and the like. You just have to know where the opportunities are, and where you can invest.”

END GAME: The direct flights offered by Lufthansa in September will total four each week in the winter, and five in the summer. But that's not where Lufthansa will stop. “Our goal is to have daily flights,” Bunkenburg says. “Daily flights create economies of scale for us, and make it much more feasible when it comes to crew rotations and some of the other costs. That's what we'll be striving for from day one.”

STRONG DEMAND: Tickets on the first flights in September and October already are changing hands. “There has been a very good interest, and demand looks to be exactly where we expected it right now,” Bunkenburg says. “We know it will only get better, especially once we ramp up sales promotions and advertising later this summer.”

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