Wednesday, February 2, 2005
A top ski company executive told a gathering of airline executives here Wednesday that he expects to see 11 percent growth in arriving airline passengers when final ski season numbers are in.
Based on last winter's ski season arrivals at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, that would translate to an additional 10,600 passengers. The airport 20 miles west of Steamboat Springs saw 96,411 arriving passengers December 2003 through April 2004, according to statistics kept by Routt County. The most recent monthly totals are for December 2004, when 19,550 travelers arrived at YVRA compared with 17,259 in December 2003.
Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for American Skiing Co.'s western resorts, said the growth can be attributed to an increase in available seats as well as an increasing number of repeat visitors.
"This was the fifth year in a row we added capacity (inbound airline seats), and the growth in inbound passengers is outstripping that number," Wirth said Wednesday at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.
Wirth spoke to an audience of more than 150 people, including representatives of five major airlines that fly into YVRA during ski season. Also attending the conference were local business people who contribute to revenue guarantees provided to the airlines to secure the service.
Guest speaker Lalia Rach, associate dean of the Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration at New York University, told the airline executives she doesn't think the nation's airlines can become healthy without increased assistance from the federal government.
"This is a national issue," Rach said. "The government has not recognized it. They are relying on companies to solve it. It's not going to work. This is a national productivity issue."
Rach noted that Delta Airlines, which serves YVRA with daily ski-season flights from Salt Lake City and weekly flights from Atlanta and Cincinnati, just closed its Dallas hub. Rach stopped short of criticizing Delta's plan, but she said it raises issues about flooding its major hub at Atlanta with even more passengers and luggage.
The ongoing trend of dwindling hub cities will grow in 2005, Rach predicted, as major airlines adjust their models to stick to flying between specific cities. If that happens, customers likely will find themselves traveling on multiple airlines to reach destinations such as Steamboat Springs.
"Don't think this country doesn't understand that without a vibrant airline industry, we're all in trouble," Rach said. "It cannot diminish much more, and the federal government will have to step forward."