Allegiant Travel plans to take on real estate

Airline aims to construct 22-acre resort

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After 18 years flying as an airline for the price conscious, Allegiant Travel Co. wants to add real estate development to its list of corporate activities.

The company is embarking on an audacious plan to build a 22-acre resort compound with a hotel, condominiums, bars and restaurants on the Florida Gulf Coast in Port Charlotte.

The real estate offshoot, called Sunseeker Resorts, will have a 75-room hotel, along with about 720 condo units, ranging from $650,000 to $1.1 million based on size.

The property, when finished in late 2019 or 2020, also will include North America’s largest private-resort swimming pool.

Longer term, Allegiant wants to tout its success with the Sunseeker property as a bid to begin managing other leisure-destination hotels for fees, further diversifying its revenue, President John Redmond said Tuesday. It also sees lucrative opportunities in developing new food and beverage brands and restaurants it can use at other locations, plus meeting and banquet space, a marina with boat slip leases, and the ability of owners to rent their condos as part of the hotel operation.

All this new business development is far afield from the core operation of running an 88-jet airline with nationwide, less-than-daily service from small towns to leisure destinations in Florida, Las Vegas and Phoenix — a model that has proved wildly profitable.

The airline is simultaneously working this summer to improve its operational reliability, which suffered earlier this year, while also shifting to an all-Airbus fleet by 2020.

It’s not revolutionary for an airline to own or build traveler accommodations — Pan American Airways did it right after World War II, when founder Juan Trippe opened the carrier’s first hotel in Brazil. The chain expanded into the InterContinental brand under Pan Am ownership for 35 years before the airline’s financial pinch caused it to sell the hotels in 1981.

In the 1980s, United Airlines’ parent briefly became the Allegis Corp., a full-service travel conglomerate that aimed to meet the full range of travel needs by piecing together the airline with its ownership of Hertz rental cars and the Westin and Hilton hotel chains. (United had acquired Hilton from another airline, TWA.) The conglomeration effort died ignominiously in 1987 amid a shareholder battle, two years after the Hertz acquisition and almost 20 years after the company had bought Westin. United’s parent sold off everything but the airline.

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