Q. The minimum price for the Steamboat Air Program doubled this year. What's the driving force behind the price increase?

A. The minimum contribution level was only one of several components looked at to help us meet the challenge we're facing. The $2000 minimum contribution level was chosen to represent businesses that gross in excess of $800,000 annually based on a pre-agreed upon retail and restaurant guideline of .25 percent of gross sales. We recognize that one shoe does not fit all and I am working individually with many businesses to ascertain the right level for them.

The total cost of the 2002-2003 air program of $2.15 million is less than last year by $150,000, despite the 7 percent increase in seats. The community portion of the cost of the air program last year was $1 million but that was offset by $415,000 in reserves. This year the community portion is $850,000 and there are no reserves left. That means the amount to be raised by the businesses has increased over last year by $250,000.

Reserves from one year to the next are created by better than expected performance to include various fixed and variable costs.

The flight program, like last year, includes direct flights from Chicago, Newark, Dallas, Houston, and Minneapolis, and is strong and diverse.

Q. What new benefits will businesses get in return for their additional contributions?

A. First off, it is important to understand that we went to considerable effort to build a new, more meaningful and benefit-oriented program for contributors this year. More importantly, we established a collaborative process, which involved key representatives of virtually all business sectors of the community, including civic representatives and a series of four meetings with this group. We took this new, collaborative approach for a number of reasons, including the fact that the past model was losing support and momentum.

The benefits package that's been developed largely takes into account the input from these business representatives. Some benefits, like the merchant pass program and the enterprise zone tax credit, were already in place, however, it was the group's direction to further enhance the awareness of the tax credit and create a strong incentive to participate around the merchant pass thus the preferential pricing and deposit policy for participating businesses. Coupled with the new elements of the benefit program, the group felt that this was a compelling and meaningful package.

New focal points and elements of the benefit package include:

n Access to special 'super air fares' through Steamboat Central Reservations these are fares that can't be matched on the Internet,

n Employee access to coupon booklets & Fly Steamboat logo season pass a special season pass will be given to the employees of companies supporting the Fly Steamboat program, along with a coupon booklet containing exclusive discounts at other participating businesses. This allows supporting businesses to specifically target the employees of other supporting business to generate supplemental revenue and allows all employers and employees to take note of those who have chosen to support the air program.

n Other elements include the use of the Fly Steamboat logo, window decals, and direct air postcards to encourage clients to use the flight program.

Q. What percentage of local businesses currently participate in the air program and how do you convince those who don't that it's worth their investment to help guarantee jet flights, especially when the price has increased from past years?

More than 150 businesses participated in the 2001-2002 air program to raise $500,000. This represents almost 20 percent of the chamber membership.

As a portion of membership revenues to the chamber, this group of participants represents 60 percent of those revenues.

The collaborative process brought many benefits to the table that will hopefully encourage additional businesses to participate.

Already, I have received several calls from businesses that have never before been a part of this program and now want to contribute.

Q. The way the air program is constructed in terms of merchant ski passes, it seems it is the employees, not the employer, who are punished for the employer's decision not to participate in the air program. How do you respond?

A. The entire group recognized this potential outcome for the non-participating businesses' employees. However, our focus was to create benefits and rewards, not only for employers (as we have in the past) but specifically for employees. The merchant pass program is only one part albeit an important part of the overall benefit package.

That is why we created a program where employees of participating businesses will be able to access the exclusive Fly Steamboat discount booklet, the super fares and more.

We see these benefits and the merchant pass program being the grounds upon which the employee can thank their employer for their participation in the Fly Steamboat program.


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