Air races support tourism sector in slow period |

Air races support tourism sector in slow period

Rob Sabo

The Reno Championship Air Races were created in 1964 in part to boost tourism during slow September days. Now, 46 years later, the annual event at Reno-Stead Airport draws close to 200,000 people to northern Nevada, helping make September one of the busiest tourism months in the region.

Though attendance at the 2010 Reno Championship Air Races dipped slightly from 2009 figures, advance ticket sales and pre-orders are encouraging for a slight uptick at this year’s event scheduled for Sept. 14-18. Full-week attendance at last year’s event was 197,000 fans, down slightly from just over 200,000 in 2009.

Mike Houghton, president and chief executive officer of the Reno Air Racing Association for the past 14 years, says about 40 percent of visitors to the event hail from the West Coast, with the balance spread out from larger cities around country.

Although popular with locals, about 70 percent of attendees come from outside of the area including 4 to 5 percent international visitors.

“It is a huge event for this community,” Houghton says. “It contributes in excess of $70 million in economic impact in a week’s time.”

U.S. pilots make up the biggest group of flyers at the Championship Air Races, but the event regularly has pilots travel from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britian and France.

Attendance has always been strong at the event the first year drew more than 150,000 people to Sky Ranch Airport, which is now part of Spanish Springs.

Though patronage has dipped slightly along with the decline in the national economy, the Reno Championship Air Races remain a sizeable contributor to the general and tourism economy in September.

“When we started in ’64, September was one of the worst tourism months in the economy, and now it is No.1 or No. 2 in visitor production each year,” Houghton says.

The visitor demographic at the event is primarily upper-income tourists, Houghton adds. Additionally, more than 80 percent of sponsor revenue comes from out-of-market companies such as Beechcraft.

Events such as the Reno Championship Air Races are more important to the health of the local economy than ever before, Houghton says.

“With the fading economy over past several years, the only bright spots on our horizon have been special events. The Reno Rodeo kicks off special event season in June, and through Street Vibrations in October the special events have been bringing in tourists. They have consistently outperformed the convention market. You can look at special events and count on traffic coming in during the special event times.”


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