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Jeff Daniels: Debunking opposition

I moved to Steamboat in April 2000. Shortly after starting my career with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., I started traveling in July 2000 with Janet Fischer, Andy Wirth and now Rob Perlman to airline meetings with American, Continental, United, Northwest, TWA, Delta and Frontier. I have attended virtually every substantive meeting with the airlines for the past 11 years. The list of cities and airlines has grown considerably shorter thanks to industry consolidation, but the team involved with establishing and maintaining those relationships on this end has changed very little. It is from this perspective that I feel obligated to contribute to the conversations surrounding Referendum 2B, and hopefully to dispel some of the myths that may affect how some yet-to-be decided voters cast their ballot.

First and foremost, visit http://www.yes2air.com for a high-level overview of the issues at hand.

Of the recurring objections that I have either heard or read, a few are worth addressing:

■ Objection: Steamboat's airline program is underperforming compared to Vail/Eagle.

First, the Eagle County Airport serves many resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Snowmass and others. By comparison, the combined skier-day totals dwarfs Steamboat Springs as a standalone resort. These resorts command a higher household demographic, which translates to higher airline ticket yields, and it's not an accurate analogy.

■ Objection: Let's focus on filling the empty seats that are already flying.

Steamboat's strong family brand means guests prefer to travel around holidays, when kids are off school and when the flights are already full. To quote an airline executive, "We don't run a candy store." What he meant is that you can't cherry pick dates and times that you want to operate flights. Flying to Steamboat with an irregular schedule that eliminates wasted seats for us actually costs the airlines more money. There is some flexibility around weekends and peak holidays, but those opportunities have already been fully realized with our current flight schedule to YVRA.

■ Objection: Steamboat should forgo destination skiers and target drive customers.

This is my favorite objection, primarily because this is the area where the most evidence lies contradicting this strategy. Steamboat's destination guests (those who board an airplane to get here) are worth three times that of a Colorado overnight guest. Do we think that we can replace each destination visitor with three Front Range customers?

■ Objection: If taxpayer dollars are used to support airline guarantees, then taxpayers should have greater transparency with regard to the process of negotiating operating costs, selecting schedules and prioritizing originating nonstop markets to the airport.

Airline operating costs are determined long before anyone from Steamboat sits down with a partner airline. Wage and work-rule contracts, fuel prices and aircraft leases are just a few of many major expenses that are considered by the airlines when determining base flight costs. The airlines roll up these costs and add an acceptable margin of profitability, and that's the cost. Once the pricing is complete, Ski Corp. Director of Airline Programs Janet Fischer builds a menu of potential scheduling scenarios and presents them in detail at a public meeting of the Local Marketing District. Input from LMD board members is solicited, and it's back to work on refining the scenarios. This process is repeated until a final schedule is agreed upon by the LMD, partner airlines and Ski Corp. This is also the same public process that has taken place for the past six years, and it will continue to function this way into the future. I want to emphasize that LMD meetings are open to the public.

Air accessibility benefits our community and a vast majority of its residents. I am passionate about Steamboat and the bright future that a healthy and growing tourism base affords us, and that is why I urge you to vote "yes" on Referendum 2B.

Jeff Daniels

Manager of Steamboat Central Reservations

for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.