The summer tourism season in the Florida Panhandle is over, but tourism is still on the minds of a lot of people, including District 2 U.S. Representative Steve Southerland.
The Congressman was joined by industry leaders Monday afternoon at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport for a behind-the-scenes tour of the airport and round-table discussion of Travel, Tourism, and the Economy.
Southerland said Northwest Florida has "the world's most beautiful beaches, the world's finest seafood, and the world's friendliest people . . . we just have to share our story."
"The more people who learn about the Emerald Coast and learn about what we all know, people are going to want to come here," said Southerland. "We're talking about the growth and the future opportunities that we're going to have and how the airport is going to be on the leading edge of how that's going to happen."
Parker McClellan, the airport's executive director, showed Southerland and the tour group just how the airport is working to create opportunities.
Throughout the tour, McClellan explained some of the cutting edge technology in the airport, including operations in the control tower. Southerland was able to speak with some Air Traffic Control Operators about their role and its importance.
McClellan also showed the Congressman an unfinished area above Baggage Claim. He said it's the future home of the airport's Federal Inspection Station, or Customs.
McClellan and Southerland hope to attract international tourists to the Panhandle, such as recruiting charter groups from Europe.
"When Europeans figure out that we can come to a place that's safe, we can come to a place where the dollar goes a long way, probably more so than some of the places in Europe. There's consistent service. There's hospitality. They want us. I really believe there's some opportunities for us here by expanding our appeal to Europe," said Southerland.
Representative Southerland also discussed other industries that could attract people to come to the area year-around or possibly make the Panhandle their home.