VR: Many don’t know Eagle County airport exists | VailDaily.com

VR: Many don’t know Eagle County airport exists

Chris Outcalt
Eagle County, CO Colorado
NWS Eagle Airport 1 DT 12-31-08

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Planes have been flying to and from the Eagle County airport for more than a decade, but making potential visitors aware that the airport is there is still one of the biggest hurdles it faces, officials said.

“The majority of our destination guests still come through Denver,” said Chris Jarnot, Vail Mountain’s chief operating officer.

Vail Resorts ” which manages the airport’s winter service ” is always looking to add new destinations, Jarnot said. But making Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek visitors aware that flying to Eagle County, instead of Denver, is possible is a priority.

“We’ve been here 19 years, but it’s still an awareness issue,” Jarnot said. “Surprisingly, skiers don’t know that they can fly straight here.”

Adam Sutner, Vail Resorts director of sales and marketing, said the company has increased its marketing of the airport the last few years and he thinks it’s working.

“Our research shows Eagle has an awareness deficiency,” Sutner said. “We’ve ramped it up recently. I think we’re seeing the benefits of that.”

Vail Resorts uses a variety of tactics to promote the airport, including posters at the airports that have flights to Eagle and promoting Vail in a five-minute video on airline Web sites specific to Dallas, New York and Los Angeles.

“In the past two to three years, we’ve assigned far greater importance and more resources (to the airport),” Sutner said.

Kent Myers, a local airline consultant who manages summer service in Eagle, said airport awareness has always been a problem.

“People don’t know there is an airport,” he said. “Even though we’ve got thousands of people going in and out of there, just the fact that it exists is an ongoing battle in the winter and the summer.”

Pricing and the name of the airport are two of the problems Vail Resorts faces in its marketing efforts, Sutner said.

“There is a perception, perhaps unfounded, that it’s expensive,” Sutner said.

Fares out of Eagle can be more expensive during peak seasonal weeks, but lately the airport has had cheaper fares than Denver International Airport, Sutner said.

“That’s happened in the last few weeks,” he said “And we’ve seen the needle moving steadily since then.”

Parking was packed at the airport around the Christmas holiday, forcing officials to open a new overflow parking lot with an additional 250 spaces.

Jody Talbot of Talbot Travel said she’s noticed more people calling the travel agency that have heard of the Eagle County airport.

“It’s a dramatic turnaround from two years ago,” she said. “The problem still is that due to the weather, sometimes the flights don’t go. When Eagle works for our clients, it’s wonderful. When it doesn’t, that’s what they remember.”

The airport will close on April 15 to Aug. 31 for runway maintenance. The closure comes at a bad time, Talbot said.

“It’s a shame it has to close. There is so much momentum right now,” she said.

Aside from constantly working on marketing the airport, Vail Resorts is happy with the winter service it has developed, Jarnot said.

“It’s evolved less in the last few years,” he said. “We’ve got service to all the major hubs and destinations.”

But they’re always eyeing new spots, and the Pacific Northwest and the nation’s capital are on the list, he said.

“There are a few markets where we have customer bases that aren’t particularly well served ” Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.,” Jarnot said.

Because all three destinations are on the coast, those areas would have to generate enough interest on their own to warrant the service, Jarnot said.

“A market like Dallas doesn’t have to be completely successful with customers just from that market,” he said. “Seattle has to basically be successful out of customers that originate out of that area.”

Vail Resorts is offering fewer guarantees to airlines to have flights to and from Eagle County, Jarnot said. If Vail Resorts does guarantee a flight, it agrees the airline will generate a certain amount of revenue from a flight and pays the difference if it doesn’t.

“We still pay, but it’s a much more manageable amount than it had been years ago,” Jarnot said. “Airlines have figured out how to manage this market.”

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

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