Patient analysis, marketing seeks to expand air service | nnbusinessview.com

Patient analysis, marketing seeks to expand air service

John Seelmeyer

Olympic gold medal skier Jonny Moseley was all over the media in southeast Texas in February as Continental Airlines introduced nonstop service between Reno and Houston.

And it was no coincidence that Moseley, a resident of Lake Tahoe, was in Houston as the air service was launched.

The Reno-Tahoe Regional Marketing Committee, a consortium of public and private agencies with a stake in the tourism industry, laid the groundwork for Moseley’s visit as part of its ongoing campaign to make certain that northern Nevada enjoys good air service.

“We really have a responsibility to improve the infrastructure of our destination. Air service is a very important part of that infrastructure,” says Bill Hoffman, the chair of the Regional Marketing Committee and executive director of the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau.

Some of the air-service needs of the tourism industry are obvious a direct pipeline between ski-crazy Texans and the slopes of Lake Tahoe, for instance.

Others are more subtle.

Hoffman notes, for instance, that the Regional Marketing Committee pays a lot of attention to service between Reno and Baltimore Washington International Airport.

The reason? The Washington area is home to scads of associations, all of which might schedule a convention at Reno or Lake Tahoe. The Baltimore airport, in fact, carries the most traffic to and from Reno of any route without direct service.

The Regional Marketing Committee’s work complements major ongoing efforts by Reno-Tahoe International Airport to boost air service to the region for leisure and business travelers alike.

The airport has hired a specialist, InterVISTAS Consulting LLC of Bethesda, Md., to oversee its effort.

Kevin Schorr, a vice president with the consulting firm, says the addition of airline service is entirely a profit-driven decision by airlines.

With limited numbers of aircraft available, carriers want to use planes on routes where they can generate the most passengers at the highest-possible fares.

That means that InterVISTAS and executives of the airport first need to convince an airline of the potential traffic to be generated if new service is launched.

That’s sometimes a challenging estimate, because new direct service may drain passengers out of connecting flights. Or the availability of new service may stimulate entirely new travel business. Or competitive carriers may undertake initiatives of their own.

Another piece of the analysis is operating costs. Reno-Tahoe International Airport ranks sixth-lowest among its peers in airlines’ cost per passenger, finds a study by Airports Council International, an industry group.

On the other hand, escalating fuel costs the biggest single expense faced by airlines is discouraging many route-expansion proposals as carriers decide to ground older, fuel-hungry aircraft.

One of the factors that can help nudge an airline Schorr says, is the depth of marketing support the community is ready to offer.

That, Hoffman says, is where the Regional Marketing Committee steps in.

“Everything we do is destination branding,” he says.

The committee works with publishers of in-flight magazines to run articles about the attractions of the Reno-Tahoe area. It assembles packages from its members to provide as prizes for airline contests. It sells Lake Tahoe and Reno to consumer audiences in focused campaigns in markets where airline service to the region could use a boost.

No matter how much help the region can provide to new air service, the analysis and decision-making process is seldom quick. Airlines’ planning cycles often run at least a year in advance, and major shifts in their route structure may be in the planning stages for years.

When Delta Airlines brought back direct service between Reno and Minneapolis in April, for instance, it marked the culmination of a five-year effort by airport executives.


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