The day began with a Columbia Café breakfast and a spirited Latin town hall with local Hispanic business and tourism leaders. It ended with a lively luncheon and interviews with local newspapers before a farewell with Tampa Bay Rays jerseys and cigars tucked under arms.
By the time Copa Airlines CEO Pedro Heilbron and Panama’s Vice Minister of Tourism Ernesto “Tito” Orillac left TPA on their afternoon flight on Sept. 12, they had an entirely new impression of the Tampa Bay area. They met and spoke with business and tourism leaders, members of the local and Hispanic media, state legislators and even Florida Gov. Rick Scott. They spent time with TPA CEO Joe Lopano, VP of Marketing Chris Minner and his team, and others who eagerly await the Dec. 17 launch of the new nonstop Copa flights between Tampa and Panama City. They marveled at the area’s array of beaches, restaurants, shops, sports teams and other attractions.
“Once it is discovered, this area has incredible potential,” said Heilbron, noting Tampa’s family- friendly qualities and variety of activities that go beyond the typical Florida theme parks. “The community support is key.”
That support was evident from the time Heilbron and Orillac set foot in TPA, where they were greeted by TPA’s marketing team of Kari Goetz, Justin Meyer and Minner and led to Columbia Café, where Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada led a Spanish-language town hall with local Hispanic business leaders and members of the media.
Then the two guests were whisked to the main terminal executive offices, where they met with Lopano and were introduced to Gov. Rick Scott, who stopped by TPA to meet Heilbron and Orillac and speak to the media about international tourism and the importance of Copa’s service to the region.
Heilbron, Orillac, Gov. Scott and Lopano then shuttled to the Airside F international arrival atrium, where they were greeted by members of the Bay Area Legislative Delegation. The delegates were scheduled to have a regular meeting and hear Lopano’s presentation on the Master Plan, but were thrilled to invite the Copa CEO, Lopano and Scott to open the meeting and discuss the partnership between Copa and the Tampa Bay area.
“Had I known it would be like this, we would have been in Tampa 10 years ago,” Heilbron joked.
Lopano thanked Heilbron and Orillac for coming, and introduced the governor, who stressed the importance of international tourism and flights on our state’s economy.
Gov. Scott, Heilbron and Orillac left the delegates’ meeting to see the new Copa Airlines ticket counter and answer questions from several reporters that came to Copa Day. When that was finished, Heilbron and Orillac were led to a sold-out luncheon at the Marriott ballroom, where they addressed various members of the community, city officials, county commissioners, business leaders and other invitees. They also answered questions from the crowd and discussed the benefits of visiting Panama and the perks of flying on Copa.
After finishing up some final one-on-one interviews with the media, Heilbron, Orillac and their team said goodbye to their new friends in Tampa and hopped on their departing Jet Blue flight. Before they left, they spoke of how impressed they were with the day’s events and their excitement at launching this new partnership with the Tampa Bay area.
“Tampa was not an obvious choice at first,” Heilbron said. “What tipped the bar was all the support from the community. They did the groundwork and put resources behind their promises.”