Air Tran's non-stop service to and from five southeastern cities is why many passengers say they visit the coast. In fact, as Betty Ring stepped off an Air Tran flight from Tampa, she said, "We wouldn't be coming probably" if Air Tran's low cost flights didn't stop in Gulfport.
Beau Rivage initially lured Air Tran to the coast. Early last year, Grand Casino agreed to help Beau fill Air Tran's seats.
According to Beau Rivage President Jeff Dahl, the two casinos understand what the jet service means for the coast. "There is no question that Air Tran has increased the number of visitors that come to the gulf coast from a tourism standpoint," Dahl said. "It has had a huge impact."
Both casino companies also understand the bottom line. Which is why back in the fall, Grand Casino thought it was paying too much for what Air Tran was providing. So Grand boss Tom Brosig told Gulfport business leaders that his company would stop subsidizing its portion of Air Tran flights, if it couldn't negotiate a new deal with Beau Rivage. That deal has since been reached.
In a meeting with WLOX News, Brosig said, "Jeff and I have agreed in principle to basically involve each other on an equal basis in both the upside and the downside. While at the same time, recognizing that with additional community support, it defrayed some of our joint downside risk."
The community support came from local governments and local agencies. They pledged money to market the coast this winter in cities where Air Tran flies. That's when Brosig and Dahl said they found a way to equally share their Air Tran marketing responsibilities. Dahl said, "We think that the agreement we have is going to succeed in making sure that Air Tran continues to fly and continues to be an important part of the Gulf Coast."
The casinos are banking on Air Tran to be the catalyst that helps both them and coast tourism soar into the future.
According to the new agreement, Grand Casino and Beau Rivage will each try to fill about 45 percent of Air Tran's seats. The other 10 percent will be the responsibility of Casino Airlink.