The number of passengers flying out of the Phoenix–Mesa Gateway Airport soared 51 percent higher than a year ago thanks in part to a busy spring training season.
The airport said 167,550 passengers used Gateway in the first three months of the year. January travel was up 30 percent over last year, and February and March were both 60 percent higher.
Gateway anticipates it will continue to handle far more passengers this year with the ever-expanding cities served by Allegiant and the arrival of Spirit Airlines. Gateway projects 1.2 million passengers this year, up from 956,665 in 2011.
To help boost travel to the airport, the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau launched a 7-month-long advertising campaign last year that targeted residents of the cities Allegiant flies from. An Internet component triggered tourism ads to appear under various circumstances, said Milt Ford, the CVB’s sales and marketing director.
“If somebody was at their computer in North Dakota and there was a temperature difference of 20 degrees and they had researched travel within 60 days, then a Visit Mesa banner would pop up,” Fort said.
He considers the effort successful, saying 49,000 people entered a sweepstakes for free vacations for two based on the ads.
However, the surge of Gateway passengers didn’t translate to better times for hotels that have yet to fully recover from a drop in travel during the recession.
Occupancy rates are only up slightly from last year. The submarket that includes Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert had 83.5 percent occupancy in March, compared with 83.0 percent a year earlier. Tempe rose to 89.0 percent in March, from 87.4 in March 2011. The Valley’s occupancy rate in March was 82.7 percent.
Fort said he doesn’t expect much improvement in hotel occupancy this year because presidential election years tend to have slight declines or little growth.
“Don’t ask me why, but it is cyclical,” he said.
But 2011 saw improvements. Valley hotel occupancy rose about 4.4 percent, while the East Valley jumped nearly 16 percent, Fort said.
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