Air travel to Yampa Valley Regional Airport down for summer

Number of arriving passengers during summer months decreases 2.3 percent

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Chamber hopes for late bookings

Steamboat Springs resort community will hope the changing aspen leaves drive late bookings this weekend. About 5,000 visitors are expected to spend the night here Saturday, according to the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s weekly lodging barometer.

Steamboat saw 1,900 late arrivals on the corresponding Saturday in 2009, when the Chamber’s early forecast of 6,200 visitors swelled to 8,100 actual guests.

The Chamber issues its lodging barometer Wednesday every week during winter and summer tourism seasons to help its members prepare their staffs for the weekend.

— The number of arriving passengers at Yampa Valley Regional Airport during the three months of summer was down 2.3 percent this year to 12,350 in spite of strong load factors.

However, the month of July — with 4,744 inbound travelers — saw an increase of 335 passengers, offsetting a weaker June.

Janet Fischer, airline program manager for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., said Thursday that arriving flights from Denver on Sky West Airlines/United Express in August were a little more than 81 percent full, with July not far off that load.

Records kept by the airport show that summer air traffic is off substantially from 2008, when 14,792 passengers arrived at the airport in Hayden.

However, Fischer said in order to put those numbers in proper perspective it’s important to know that available seats this summer were down 40 percent compared to 2008. Most of the decline in seats can be attributed to the absence of a daily flight to Salt Lake City on Sky West/United.

The number of inbound seats from Denver also has declined. Fischer said United Express typically operates twice-daily flights to YVRA in spring and fall with three during the height of summer. But the duration of the period when there are three daily flights gradually has eroded.

Significantly, Steamboat did not have to dip into the lodging taxes collected by its Local Marketing District to provide the airline with minimum revenue guarantees this summer. There were no airline contracts in place this summer, Fischer said.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall said the LMD had to put up $300,000 in revenue guarantees in order to secure all jet summer service in 2009. The same amount was budgeted for this year, but United Express didn’t seek the guarantees.

“That was very welcome news,” Evans Halls said, adding that it helps the resort community keep a reserve fund against future changes in airline requirements for the winter flight program.

The all-jet summer service also has reaped rewards for the traveling public, Evans Hall said.

“From the length of the flight to experiencing fewer flight cancellations to accessing more convenient gates at DIA, all of that improves the experience of getting to Steamboat,” she said.

Christmas calendar

Fischer said she’s working with airlines this season on fare structure to balance competitive prices with the goal of good financial results for the airline program.

The fact that Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Saturdays this winter means that the peak airline capacity will be on days when some people are reluctant to travel. As of Thursday, Fischer said Sunday, Dec. 26 is the busiest day for arrivals, though passenger numbers also are strong on Christmas Day. The traveling public currently is choosing New Year’s Day as its favored day to travel home from holiday ski trips.

For someone hoping to fly from Chicago to Steam­boat on United on Christ­­­mas Day and return Jan. 2, the lowest quoted fare at United.com is $743. That itinerary includes a stop in Denver instead of flying direct to YVRA, and there are only three seats remaining on that particular flight. Other roundtrip fares are quoted as high as $1,043.

Steamboat’s reservation system quoted the least expensive roundtrip fare direct from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport if departing Dec. 26 and returning Jan. 2 at $1,757 per person.

There is a fare of $733 available for vacationers flying here via Denver on Dec. 25 and returning Jan. 1, and that itinerary has more availability.

United reports there are lower fares available for travelers willing to accept another intermediate stop.

For travelers willing to fly before the holidays there are roundtrips from O’Hare to Steamboat Dec. 18 and returning Dec. 23 for $486 with a stop in Denver.

“Fares will always be lower traveling mid-week outside the holidays,” Fischer said.

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