Friday, November 16, 2012

Airport leaders tout value of marketing

Some tell legislators that marketing can replace most MRGs

Express Staff Writer

From left, Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, and Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, take a break from a meeting with community leaders at the Blaine County Annex building on Thursday morning. Photo by Roland Lane

In a meeting with legislators on Thursday morning, airport leaders and air service development advocates argued that marketing is just as crucial to maintaining air service at Friedman Memorial Airport as minimum revenue guarantees.

“We can have the best airport in the world, but if people don’t know about Sun Valley, it might not get used,” said Tom Bowman, chair of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, met with Bowman, airport manager Rick Baird and Fly Sun Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Waller on Thursday morning to ask what she and the other local legislators could do to help the air service effort.

Baird commented that another ski area, Aspen, only rarely uses minimum revenue guarantees to entice airlines to provide service to the area. Instead, he said, Aspen uses aggressive marketing to put passengers in seats and prove that there is a demand for those flights.

“If that community can solve their problems, if they can have a direct impact on their economy, we can, too,” he said. “If the community has the will, it can control its own destiny.”

Waller said that her organization has been working with Sun Valley Co. and the marketing alliance as well as the lodging industry to market Sun Valley as a destination, but the failure of the proposed local option tax for air service earlier this month was a blow to the effort.

She said she is also trying to work with the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority to ensure that potential passengers understand that flights to Hailey versus Boise are not always significantly more expensive.

“If you look at a snapshot of fares, the fare comparison between a nonstop flight from Seattle or Los Angeles into Sun Valley versus Boise is not that different,” she said, adding that perhaps  a fare comparison study that is currently in the works could help marketing efforts.

But Baird said that perhaps marketing efforts should focus on the entire area, rather than just the resort and ski mountains.

“This area is more than Sun Valley,” he said. “It’s Craters of the Moon [National Monument], it’s Silver Creek, it’s hiking, it’s biking, it’s the Sawtooths and the White Clouds. We’re Trailing of the Sheep, we’re the Jazz Festival. We’re an incredible community, and I don’t think the rest of the world realizes how incredible it is, or we’d have no trouble filling seats.”

Stennett asked the leaders what the legislature could do to help, and Waller cited a bill that would allow counties to levy local-option taxes. Stennett said that there was a “big push” for such a bill, especially from Ada County.

“We always push [such bills],” Stennett said. “But it really has gained a lot more momentum this year, and I think it will be entertained.”

Waller said she had heard from many people who live in unincorporated areas in the county who wished they had been able to vote in support of the local-option tax for air service. The tax was on the ballot only in the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey.

Pence and Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, arrived for a series of meetings later in the day. Miller said he was late due to scheduling conflicts, and Pence said she was late due to a car accident she was in just south of Bellevue.

“I went to change a CD and I looked up and was headed for a pole,” she said.

Pence said she believed she was uninjured in the accident, though her car was likely totaled.

Kate Wutz:

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