Nov 13 2011

Memphis’ Travel Troubles Aren’t Limited to Airfare

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, Shelby County

Memphis Cook Convention Center

Over the past week, much of the conversation here in Memphis has revolved around transportation and tourism. The week started with Mayor Wharton’s trip to St. Louis to try and lure COGIC back.

Just a week before came news that the National Folk Alliance was moving to Kansas City.

In each case, the cost of airfare was a factor in the decision, something both the Commercial Appeal, and the Memphis Flyer have covered in the past several days.

Airfare in and out of Memphis is high. It has been since I moved here. After I started freelancing again in 2006, I found that out first hand. Clients that bought my airfare regularly asked if I would consider driving to Little Rock to catch a Southwest flight, or would complain about the cost of the flights out of Memphis.

This was before the merger of Northwest and Delta. In short, its been this way for a very long time.

But how bad is it, and how much of an impact does it really have on tourism, including the convention business, here in Memphis? I was curious too, so I spent some time Saturday afternoon and took a look.

To test this, I used 18 departure cities made up of cities that I traveled to frequently when I was traveling. I then used 5 destinations, including Las Vegas, Orlando, Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Memphis.

I used priceline.com for the results, which was for a booking in the second weekend of February 2012, 3 months out. The lowest fare, regardless of whether I would ever want to fly at that time, or on that airline, was recorded, which means, depending on the person, their cost may be higher.

In the end, I found that fares into Memphis are, on average, $100 more than my test cities, even with a lot of lead time. In most cases, you may not have that kind of lead time to prepare, which will likely make the fares higher.

Just to show how much the fares go up on average, the closer to the travel date you get, on a second sheet below there’s a look at the same cities 3 months, 2 months, 1 month, and 2 weeks out.

Here is the raw data.

I think the article at the Flyer does the best job of any addressing many of the problems with the travel side of our troubles. But there are a lot of things that aren’t covered.

I’ve written about this before, so I don’t want to rehash old material. However, even though those posts are two years old, they still apply.

We’re not Orlando, Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas or even St. Louis. We don’t have the facilities they do. We don’t have the infrastructure either. That’s not to say we couldn’t, but there’s a whole lot more than just buildings or cheaper, or more flight availability thats involved.

We have to market ourselves better as a destination. No, we don’t have Disneyworld, or a huge strip of casinos, but that doesn’t mean we’re not a destination. It just means we have to make our case better to the world to attract events to Memphis.

I’m mostly out of the convention business these days. What used to be over 275 days in show or traveling has dwindled down to around 100, by choice. But my perspective now, based on the revelations about the impact of airfare on the City’s convention business is the same. If we’re not willing to tell people, loud and proud, who we are and what we have to offer, we should just be content with the business we get and stop fretting over it.

If, on the other hand, we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is and work to change our perception of ourself, and the world’s perception of us, we can be a destination like some of these larger cities over time.

It ain’t gonna be cheap, easy, or fast. We’ll have to be more patient than we’re used to being. But if the willingness is there, if we can commit to it longer than a typical political cycle, we can make it happen. Smaller markets than us have. There’s no reason we can’t.