Vail Daily column: We should make it easy to get here | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: We should make it easy to get here

We should all agree that making it easy for our visitors and second-home owners to get here benefits our community. The fact is, more visitors plus more second-home owners equals more money cycled through our economy. More money cycled through our economy equals higher sales tax collections for our municipalities, resulting in the increased ability to complete capital projects that benefit residents.

Yet we make things more complicated than they need to be, and continue to fail to recognize the impacts and importance of the Eagle County Regional Airport.

We are blessed to have Interstate 70 to provide access from the entire Front Range as well as from Denver International Airport. Credit the Colorado Department of Transportation and the I-70 Coalition (goI70.com) for their efforts to mitigate traffic congestion and to relieve pressure points on the corridor to provide more consistent access to the mountains.

Negligent to Rely on Interstate, DIA

More than one in four may not visit at all if they have to fly to DIA and then drive to the area (28 percent definitely will not or are unlikely to visit). An additional two in five respondents said they would visit, but less often (41 percent).

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As great (and important to our economic success) as I-70 is, we would be negligent to rely only on the interstate and Denver International Airport for our continued growth as a destination. It is vital to our continued growth as a community and as a vacation destination that we increase access through the EGE.

Some might push back on this fact — after all, we have I-70 and access to a huge hub airport at Denver International Airport just 2.5 hours away. The facts and the data (from a visitor intercept study conducted this winter at the airport) show that our visitors and homeowners value EGE. More importantly, access to Vail and Beaver Creek through the Eagle County Regional Airport is vital to our economy and up to 70 percent of visitors who access Vail and Beaver Creek through EGE would not visit or would consider other destinations if non-stop flight service didn't exist from their home communities.

Here are some facts about the Eagle County Regional Airport and our visitors who access our communities through EGE, as measured through guest intercept studies at EGE this past winter:

Availability of air service to EGE is extremely important in the decision to visit: On a scale of one to 10, 86 percent of visitors gave ratings of seven or higher — including 58 percent ratings of nine or 10 (extremely important). The average rating was 8.3.

Absence or frequency of flights has kept one in five from visiting: Visitors also indicated whether the absence or frequency (days, times) of flights from their home into EGE has ever kept them from visiting. Overall, just over one in five respondents said they have, in fact, been impacted previously (22 percent).

Keep Air Services Available

If air services were not available to EGE and visitors had to fly into DIA and drive to Eagle County, the impact is potentially significant on future visitation to the area, with nearly 70 percent of travel possibly affected to one extent or another. Most significantly, more than one in four may not visit at all if they have to fly to DIA and then drive to the area (28 percent definitely will not or are unlikely to visit). An additional two in five respondents said they would visit, but less often (41 percent).

Guest comments provided regarding the above issue indicate that driving I-70 from Denver to Eagle County is viewed as a significant deterrent due to traffic and weather. Respondents prefer the convenience of flying into EGE, and that if air service were unavailable, then the frequency of travel to the area would be impacted (including many who would try to find other ski destinations with a more conveniently located airport).

Similarly, asked what most influenced their decision to select Eagle County this trip of all the places they could have gone, although the quality of skiing and the specific destinations themselves (Vail, Beaver Creek, etc.) are primary draws, convenience, easy access to the airport and direct/nonstop flights are clearly major factors listed in the comments, reinforcing other data that direct air service to EGE plays a significant role in visitors' decision to visit the area.

Convenience and ease of access are the most important reason for choosing EGE. Convenience and ease of access was by far the most cited reason for choosing EGE (70 percent), followed by non-stop service (42 percent), schedule of flights (39 percent) and price of an airline ticket (27 percent).

Availability and variety of nonstop flights are the most important factor in future consideration of EGE. Roughly two in five respondents (39 percent) indicated that availability and variety of nonstop flights from EGE to out-of-state hub airports would be the single most important factor in their decision to use EGE for future trips.

Guests stay Longer typically

Separate additional research indicates that EGE serves a comparatively more affluent, higher-spending and longer staying guest than does DIA, for passengers taking a ski trip to Eagle County. Additionally, a greater number of EGE visitors make multiple trips to the area during the course of a single season, as well as spend more time in the area per trip.

As a result of longer average stays and higher average per capita daily spend, EGE visitors generate greater economic impact in Eagle County than visitors who come via DIA on a per-passenger per-trip basis.

Significant Economic Impacts

It's not that complicated. Non-stop flight service matters to our guests. The economic impacts of our visitors through EGE are significant. Data and research shows flight service is a key factor in visitation. Visitation benefits our businesses. Healthy businesses benefit our communities. A key to healthy business is having enough guests. The circle completes itself.

Of course, it is possible the visitor profile, economic impacts, likelihood of repeat visitation, and importance of service to EGE in the decision making process for our visitors doesn't impact you, or it's possible your business can withstand up to a 70 percent reduction from this target market.

For the rest of us, let's continue to support efforts to increase air service to EGE, and keep in mind that if we make it too hard to get here, up to 70 percent of people will pick other destinations.

Learn more about plans for the airport and summer flight schedules at our upcoming EGE Air Alliance Meet and Greet on July 15 at 4:15 p.m. at Crazy Mountain Brewing Company. This is a great opportunity for Q&A and discussion around the impacts that EGE has on our community.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership. Learn more about flight service to EGE at FlyVail.com and more about the EGE Air Alliance efforts to increase air service at EGEAirAlliance.com.