Jim Clark: Expanded air service good for valley
March 15, 2016
I'll run the risk of stereotyping by stating the obvious: Texans love Colorado. Maybe not all of them, but a many do. They come for skiing and riding in the winter and to escape the oppressive heat in the summer.
I lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area from 1999 to mid 2003. During that period, I took three ski vacations, two to Colorado and one to Utah. A summer trip was cancelled during the fire season of 2002, so I probably fit the profile of a Texas visitor. Having lived in Colorado before, I knew the state pretty well and loved to return.
Visitors from Texas travel all over our state. Many visit the southern destinations due to the shorter driving distance. Accessibility is key to attracting visitors. That's why I was thrilled when the local marketing district announced summer air service from Dallas to give us not one, but two Texas air markets. And we get the added benefit of connecting to two major hubs for our own summer travel.
Daily summer flights also help address the peaks and valleys of the summer season. Because a number of our visitors are Colorado Front Range residents, summer weekends are busier than mid-week; lodging occupancy can range from more than 90 percent on the weekends to 40 percent weekdays.
It's not surprising that the Houston flight has reduced the number of days it flies into Hayden. According to Dr. Stephen Klineberg, of Rice University, about 45 percent of jobs in the Houston area are tied to the oil industry. That's a big number, but nowhere near the 82 percent in the 1980s.
The Dallas market, however, is a different story. The Dallas/Fort Worth area is less reliant on energy. Today's Texas economy is far more diversified now than during the '80s. From 2000 to 2014, Texas grew jobs faster than any other state in the nation. Low taxes and a favorable regulatory environment attracted a number of employers in a variety of industries. Low energy prices will have an impact, but should be nowhere nearly as devastating as the collapse in the 1980s.
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Many markets in the southwestern and southeastern U.S. are served through the American and United hubs in the Dallas and Houston markets. The expanded connections should be good for both inbound and outbound travelers.
Speaking of flights, I've spent some time on the chairlifts this winter, and I always ask visitors where they are from and how they arrived. My unscientific survey (I didn't ski much in February, had a cold that lasted forever) indicated a high number of visits from the areas we have direct service from with a very high degree of satisfaction. I didn't go a day without talking to people who had taken the direct flights into Hayden. Universally, they loved the service and told me it was a major factor in their decision to come to Steamboat.
And speaking of chairlifts, we're headed into the busy spring break season that brings lots of visitors to town and the mountain. If you're up there, please take some time to engage with these folks. Ask them where they're from, welcome them and make suggestions on where to dine or visit. Share some of that Western hospitality we're known for. It'll make them feel good about their decision to visit, and you may find you have a few things in common.
Besides, it makes the ride go by faster.
Jim Clark is CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, and he writes a monthly column for Steamboat Today.
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