Study puts numbers to Eagle County airport impact
By the numbers
86 percent: Airport users who are visitors to the area.
$200 million: Spending by visitors who came to Eagle County via the airport.
6.6 nights: Average stay of visitors who fly into the airport.
77 percent: Repeat visitors to Eagle County.
Source: RRC Associates visitor survey for the 2014-2015 ski season
EAGLE COUNTY — The Eagle County Regional Airport brings a lot of people, and their money, to the Vail Valley. A recent study has put firm numbers behind that broad statement, and those numbers are impressive.
The numbers come from a study about airport visitors during the 2014-15 ski season. The statistically valid survey was conducted by RRC Associates, a Boulder-based market research and analysis company. The winter study — a summer study should be finished later this year — was funded by a combination of the airport itself, Vail Resorts and the EGE Air Alliance, a local nonprofit group that works to expand air service into and out of the county.
Michael Brown, president of the Alliance board, said one goal of the study was to put firm numbers to the economic impact of visitors who fly into the county airport.
“This confirms what we already knew — that people coming in (via the airport) spend a great deal of money and stay longer,” Brown said, adding that the study also broke down just where people are spending that money.
The study was able to track visitation and spending, from the time people get off their airliners and as they travel up the valley.
Those numbers are impressive. Here’s a sampling:
• The largest share of spending — 40 percent — goes toward lodging.
• In all, 63 percent of visitors stay in either Vail or Beaver Creek.
• On average, people spend $358 per person, per day.
• Almost one in four visitors using the airport earns at least $500,000 per year.
Brown said those numbers will help the EGE Air Alliance as it looks to expand air service into the county.
While the Alliance first focused on summer service — the summer flight from Houston on United Airlines was its first success — Brown said that winter flights have greater economic impact. That’s why the Alliance helped land a United flight from Chicago for the coming ski season.
INVESTING IN AIR SERVICE
Beyond building service, Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer said the survey also points out the need to both grow and keep existing service.
“The biggest takeaway, for me, is easily the fact that almost seven of every 10 guests accessing our community through (the airport) would either not visit (one in four) or would visit less often or heavily consider other areas (4.5/10),” Romer wrote in an email. “That’s a huge risk to our community and a compelling reason to invest in new air service.”
The survey shows that 86 percent of visitors say that availability of service is either “very” or “extremely” important in their decision to visit. In fact, the lack of service has kept 20 percent of survey respondents from coming to the valley.
Many people who fly into Eagle County don’t want to consider flying into Denver. As many as 25 percent of respondents said they might not come to the Vail Valley without direct air service. The report notes that lack of air service could affect up to 70 percent of all travel to the valley. Survey comments show a strong dislike of the Interstate 70 drive between Denver and Eagle County.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
While people like the convenience of the Eagle County airport, people participating in the survey said there’s room for improvement at the facility. The airport’s net promoter score, which measures customer satisfaction, is relatively low.
The study showed the airport has some work to do, with a net promoter score of 49. In comparison, the overall score for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships was 87, and scores of 75 or better are considered excellent.
Comments from the airport survey showed visitors were concerned with nonstop flights from more destinations, the cost of flights and more food options at the airport itself.
Eagle County Aviation Director Greg Phillips said the number of flights is key to every other customer-satisfaction question at the airport.
“We don’t have more food service because we don’t have more flights,” Phillips said. “Everything kind of comes back to that.”
While the Alliance managed to lure another winter flight — using revenue guarantees generated largely by ad hoc fundraising from businesses and local governments — advocates say the airport needs a stable source of funding for those guarantees. That might mean some sort of tax funding, which will require voter approval. It’s too late for a ballot question this year, but Brown said the current study could provide a lot of information for future efforts.
“This is a major resource,” Brown said. “This study is what we’re going to take out when we’re having continuous conversations with communities and businesses. It illustrates why we do what we do, why we continue to work together as a community to maintain and increase our success.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.