When driving on a Houston highway last month, Chuck Porter spotted a billboard advertising daily flights to Eagle.
Marketing the 'Boat
Among Colorado’s mountain resorts, the competition is fierce to become year-round destinations rather than strictly ski towns. In the competition to capture summer tourists, resort communities are throwing large amounts of money toward marketing themselves and their amenities.
“Houston was steaming hot,” said Porter, who serves on Steamboat’s Local Marketing District board. “It must have been 100 degrees and 90 percent humidity, and there was this picture of Vail. It was pretty enticing to be honest with you.”
Porter sat on the Local Marketing District board, which oversees the air service program, when Steamboat had a daily summer flight from Houston that was subsidized by the district’s tax revenue.
It was an expensive and short-lived experiment.
Summer air service, which is not currently subsidized, again has become a topic of interest for Steamboat as dissatisfaction with the reliability of the current daily flight to Denver has mounted.
Although the latest charge is led by residents who are seeking more convenient travel for business needs, the prospect of increasing the market for potential summer visitors also is attractive.
“Primarily, our summer effort and summer marketing focus has been on the driving market,” said Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern. The Chamber received $600,000 from the city of Steamboat Springs for summer marketing this year.
Steve Dawes, a member of the Local Marketing District board, said with the maturation of the resort and increase in second-home owners, there’s been more interest in summer flights.
“Given the limited financial resources that we have, what can you try and do in the summer that would have a meaningful impact?” he said, referring to Steamboat’s summer marketing resources, which are limited compared with other Colorado mountain resorts.
“It’s one thing to bring a plane,” he said. “It’s another thing to have the marketing dollars in place.”
Porter said reliable summer air service would at least help supplement the drive market.
Opening up another market would help location-neutral businesses, he said, and provide another avenue for Steamboat to market its amenities.
“I think we’re going to have to have the air service component as a first step,” Porter said. “I think we’ve got to show the infrastructure to get the interest.”
Steamboat won’t have the same level of air service in the summer as it does during the winter, Porter said, but reliable service to Denver and possibly an alternative market would benefit the community.
Carriers who fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport during winter receive revenue guarantees funded by the 2 percent lodging tax within the Local Marketing District, a 0.25 percent sales tax earmarked for winter air service and contributions from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.
“If we’re going to have a summer air program, we’re going to need to back it up with a summer marketing program,” Porter said, adding that Steamboat has plenty of attractions to highlight.
The financial risk and reward of summer air service also has to be considered, Dawes said. Summer visitors spend less while they’re here than winter visitors.
“How much are we willing to spend per passenger to get them here?” he asked.
Dawes said some knowledge might be gained from looking at how the summer air program at Eagle County Regional Airport works and what types of passengers fill those flights.
“It’s certainly not apples to apples,” he said about the comparison with Yampa Valley Regional Airport. “But there’s something to be gained.”
Steamboat does a great job with the summer marketing resources it has, Dawes said, but “to jump into summer air is a quantum financial leap.”
Kern said the discussion of funding summer marketing isn’t strictly a Chamber issue and should be a broader community discussion.
The way air service has been funded has changed in the past, Porter said, and the way it’s structured now doesn’t have to stay the same.
“We should never be closed to new concepts and new ideas,” he said. ■