The importance of access is crucial to ski resort operations in terms of getting visitors in and out of their destination. For most winter sports enthusiasts, travel time and cost are critical variables when deciding to head to the mountains. In the U.S., for example, about 70% of resorts are within 75 miles - or easy commuting distance - of major metropolitan areas. More remote destinations, therefore, have to work harder to improve their accessibility for skiers and boarders. Telluride in Colorado is one of those. Despite having the reputation (deservedly so) for being one of the world’s top ski resorts, Telluride is rather remote, being a six-hour drive from both Denver and Salt Lake City.
But Telluride is getting closer – particularly for skiers in our part of the world. Last week I tried out the new direct American Airlines service from Charlotte to Montrose, an easy 90 minute drive to Telluride (by shuttle or rental car). Flying Saturdays through the winter season, the service provides easier access to ski resorts in Southwest Colorado such as Telluride, Crested Butte and Purgatory. While I was in Telluride, I chatted to Matt Skinner, Chief Operating Office for Colorado Flights Alliance, who is very excited about the new flight. “With the Charlotte addition, Telluride continues to increase the number of options for guests flying here,” said Skinner. “Our growing network offers destination visitors, residents and businesses alike the option to easily travel into and out of Southwestern Colorado to hubs nationwide and beyond.”
The overall mission for the Colorado Flights Alliance is economic development, and Skinner says their focus is air services development and the marketing to support it. “So, we go out and determine target markets, determine target flights, put new air services into those markets, and stimulate traffic out of those markets. We guarantee those flights for a while, the idea being that you grow them until they can stand on their own and then set them free. We get heavily involved in the marketing around these new routes, partnering with the Telluride Tourism Board and the ski resort, for example, to sell those fights. But it is not just about tourism – we want economic diversification in the area so that there is year-long demand for those new flights.”
Skinner says conversation over the Charlotte route started several years ago. “We looked at our networks and how our access matched up to our skier markets, trying to figure out ‘where do we want to go next’. We realized that we were not well served by certain major airlines, and originally focused our attention on American Airlines and Dallas Fort Worth. Then after American’s merger with US Airways, Charlotte became American’s second biggest hub behind Dallas, and was being used by American to relieve some of the compression on Dallas as well as providing international connections for travelers. So, because we have been growing leaps and bounds with new connections elsewhere, American Airlines realized we were a strong performing partner and offered to start the direct flight from Charlotte to Montrose this winter. We jumped all over it and it has been performing very well. We now have direct routes on American from LA, Chicago, Phoenix, Dallas and Charlotte along with our full United network and Delta flights, which give passengers many more options to get here than in the past.”
Skinner has been surprised how many Carolinians have been using the flight. “On average, we know that about 30% of passengers using a hub are local, and 70% are connecting, which is why we can’t reply on just one hub. We need to reach all hubs in all regions of the country because passengers are loyal to their airlines and use their hubs. But we originally thought the Charlotte flight would attract a much lower percentage of local traffic – 10 to 20% - because the airport serves the whole of the East coast as well as international traffic. But I have met so many people from the Carolinas this winter, that percentage must be higher.”
Skinner is so excited about the new flight that he thinks in the future it may run daily rather than weekly. Perhaps I am not the only fanatical skier in the Carolinas!