Aspen airport blamed for drop in skier visits |

Aspen airport blamed for drop in skier visits

ASPEN ” Everyone in Aspen had a horror story about airline flights in or out of Pitkin County Airport last ski season.

The Aspen Skiing Co. wants to make sure the nightmares weren’t so traumatic that guests won’t return.

A major thrust in the Skico’s marketing program for the 2007-08 will be to try to convince guests to give the airport another chance. “We see this as a very pivotal issue next winter,” said David Perry, senior vice president of the Skico’s mountain division.

Airlines reported 335 canceled flights in and out of the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport last winter. Roughly 15,000 passengers were affected, according to an estimate by Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen/Snowmass, a central bookings agency.

Additional passengers dealt with delayed flights and lost luggage.

The Skico figures is lost between 25,000 and 30,000 skier days when guests or their luggage didn’t arrive when scheduled, Perry said. More important than the lost business was the anger it generated.

“There were some very irritated guests,” he said. “Last year was a tough one.”

Joe Raczak, general manager at the North of Nell Condominiums in Aspen, said air transportation problems plagued business throughout the winter.

“Transportation in and out, as well as timing of luggage, was the single biggest source of frustration of our guests last winter,” Raczak said.

The North of Nell, like Aspen as a whole, has a high percentage of return business. Raczak said most of his customers will continue to return, but some won’t risk the delays so common to flying into the Aspen airport. Some customers vowed to use alternatives, like taking flights into the Eagle County Airport. Once there, they will rent a car or catch a ride with a ground transportation service.

But Aspen lost business over the air service debacle. “Yeah, I think we lost some people,” Perry acknowledged.

The marketing effort to regain their trust will ultimately be successful only if the Skico has something to report. Perry believes there is a message to get out.

First, he said, last winter was unusual. The 335 canceled flights were about three times as many as the season before. Monster blizzards in Denver framed the Christmas period and affected air travel throughout the region.

Aspen also suffered from a bizarre problem with Bombardier CRJ-700 aircraft that SkyWest operated for United Express and Delta. The aircraft had strict regulations on the barometric conditions it could fly in. Aspen’s weather produced lower barometric readings throughout December and into January before the problem was solved. Safety was never a concern, according to airline industry sources ” it was strictly a regulatory issue.

Perry said that problem shouldn’t afflict Aspen flights again. That message will be delivered to potential guests. “It should go better than last winter.”

Second, the Skico and its marketing partners hope to announce more options and improvements by existing carriers. Frontier Airline is starting a new low-fare subsidiary. The company has all but made it official that Aspen will be one of the new markets served from Frontier’s Denver hub, according to Tomcich.

Executives with United Express and SkyWest are scheduled to meet July 10 with the Pitkin County commissioners to discuss ways they intend to improve service in Aspen next ski season. That information will be relayed to customers, Perry said.

Tomcich said about 40 percent of winter guests to Aspen typically fly directly into the Aspen airport.

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