Friday, May 27, 2005

Non-stop flights critical for tourism, survey says

Chamber study indicates travelers want convenience

Express Staff Writer

Non-stop flights into Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey play a key role in bringing travelers to the Wood River Valley and encouraging them to return, a March 2005 survey has indicated.

The Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau staff from March 7 to 18 twice daily conducted a survey of departing passengers at Friedman, once in the early morning and once again in the late afternoon. Passengers surveyed were departing on Sky West Airlines flights to Salt Lake City and non-stop Horizon Air flights to Los Angeles and Oakland.

The survey, which was approved by the airport administration, was completed by a total of 184 passengers. The results were broken down into two categories, responses by residents and visitors.

A full one-third of visitors surveyed said the availability of non-stop airline service influenced their decision to visit the Sun Valley area. Additionally, 89 percent of the visitors surveyed said they would use the non-stop service again in the future.

"We're very pleased that the non-stop air service to Los Angeles and Oakland has become such a factor in bringing visitors back to Sun Valley from these key markets," said Carol Waller, Chamber executive director.

Of the visitors surveyed, a quarter of the passengers had heard about the non-stop flights from promotional efforts. Additionally, the flights have apparently developed a loyal following—79 percent of those surveyed were repeat visitors.

Horizon Air started offering direct flights to Hailey from Los Angeles in December 2002. A year later, non-stop seasonal service between Oakland and Hailey was added to the schedule.

Sun Valley Resort has ensured the California flights are provided by offering revenue guarantees to the Seattle-based airline. The Chamber has assisted in promoting the flights and raising money to offset the potential cost of revenue guarantees for Horizon.

Last winter, airfare hikes did not decrease the anticipated passenger loads, which meant that contributions were not required to meet minimum revenue guarantees.

Sun Valley Resort officials will be meeting with Horizon officials in early June to confirm plans to continue the non-stop California flights through next winter.

"We have a great relationship with Horizon and I think we have proven to them that the California market is strong," said Jack Sibbach, Sun Valley marketing director. "We hope to continue our partnership with them and possibly expand upon our markets."

In regards to a proposal to relocate Friedman to a site south of Hailey, many residents said they prefer the Hailey location. However, 72 percent of residents surveyed said they would drive 30 miles or more to a new airport.

Tourists were less forgiving. Only 55 percent of visitors said they would be willing to use an airport 30 miles or more from their vacation destination.

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