Direct flights and gay marriages wed
The Eagle County commissioners have announced a broad economic diversification strategy involving additional direct flights to gay travelers during the shoulder seasons. The direct-flight program is being called “Straight Skies for Queer Guys.”
Just as they have done with summer, they want to increase business at Eagle County Regional Airport during the slower months of April-May and also September-October. This strategy is also intended to put more people during those shoulder-season months into hotel rooms, stores and real estate offices.
To guarantee weekly direct flights, the commissioners have pledged $500,000 with the goal of getting matching funds from local towns, hotels and second-home developers. Meanwhile, county representatives are working with airlines with the hope of securing direct flights from Miami, Newark and San Francisco, and possibly Paducah, Ky.
“We have a wonderful, $50 million facility out there that is sitting empty most of the time,” explained a spokeswoman for the county commissioners. “The county believes that by priming the pump, in the future we can get airlines to take on more of the risk themselves.”
As the commissioners see it, the airport is the main “economic engine” for the county. With global warming making skiing less of a reliable proposition, the commissioners want to diversify Eagle County’s economic underpinning.
“Instead of making most of our money in the five months of winter, we should be spreading out our revenues over 11, even 12 months,” explained Commissioner Tom “Rolling” Stone.
To help ensure there will be customers for those shoulder-season flights, the county commissioners have also announced that, after conferring with County Clerk Teak “Wood” Simonton, they have decided that under state law they have the authority to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Those marriage licenses, however, will only be issued to couples who arrive by the county’s direct flights.
Airlines, the county and hotels will be working together to create package programs Ð marriage licenses, airplane trips and special lodging prices, called “suite deals.”
An economic development official says that gay and lesbians have particularly attractive statistics for resorts. “Gays like to travel, and they also have average incomes that are well above average. Look at how well Aspen and Whistler have done with their gay ski weeks,” he said. “But nobody had the idea of offering this combination of direct flights with marriage licenses.”
As part of this same program, the gondola at Vail Mountain will continue operations during April and May to Adventure Ridge. Vail’s marrying judge, Stag Allen, said he expects to be busy during the off-season.
Marketing materials are being prepared that will be distributed to newspapers catering to gays in New York, San Francisco, and Miami, as well as Paducah.