“We feel this is really important to our strategy”
Early season pass sales aren’t the only thing Crested Butte Mountain Resort is getting a jump on. CBMR is also getting a head start on airline marketing efforts, with a $100,000 contribution from the town of Mt. Crested Butte.
For a third year, CBMR has asked the town of Mt. Crested Butte to contribute money toward marketing efforts for airlines. Previously, the marketing program was conducted in coordination with American Airlines Vacations, a subsidiary of American Airlines that sells complete vacation packages and wholesale airline tickets. That program included magazine insertions and website listings to connect visitors to the area.
This year, CBMR is using the town’s contribution in a different airline marketing strategy that began last season, called Friends and Family Fly Free. Through this “buy two, get one free” program, CBMR directly purchased airline tickets, and then offered the tickets for free to customers who bought two or more tickets into the local airport.
CBMR chief operating officer Ken Stone came before the Town Council on Thursday, September 4 to request a $100,000 contribution toward airline marketing through the Friends and Family Fly Free program. “We’re going to ask for twice as much money, and we’re going to be twice as responsible,” Stone said of the use of public funds provided by the town’s admissions tax.
In light of skyrocketing airline fares, some more than $800, Stone said a cap would be set whereby the program would provide up to $600 of a ticket’s value.
Mt. Crested Butte instituted the admissions tax in 2002 to help fund marketing and events promoting the area. Seventy-five percent of the funds must be spent on marketing and 25 percent must be spent on transportation. The tax is 4 percent of admissions the town of Mt. Crested Butte charges for ski tickets and other admission-related events. The Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association received $250,000 in admissions tax funds in 2008 for marketing campaigns.
Last year CBMR took extra efforts to track the economic impact made by visitors through the American Airlines Vacations program, to show that the town was getting a positive return from its $50,000 contribution toward that program.
CBMR also tracked the economic impact of the Friends and Family Fly Free program, which the resort funded on its own.
CBMR purchased 267 “free” tickets for the program last year, at a total cost of $98,000, according to Stone’s report.
Approximately 850 passengers were tracked in the Friends and Family Fly Free program, bringing in $1.6 million in lodging revenues to CBMR. The resort estimated that the passengers spent $576,000 in the community on things other than lodging and lift tickets. Between lodging sales and the “ancillary” spending, the resort estimated that the town received approximately $60,000 in sales tax revenues. “No one else is able to do this because they don’t control their airline contracts and central lodging,” Stone said of the tracking efforts.
Stone attributes the overall success of the winter airline program last season to the Friends and Family Fly Free program. The Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority and CBMR have teamed together for the last few winters to provide financial guarantees to the airlines. During the 2006/2007 season the entities were forced to pay the airlines $900,000 in revenue guarantees. Last season they saved about $250,000 on the air program. That money was then used to provide additional bus service this summer.
“This was a real leap of faith last year when we did it. We took it to the airlines and had to convince them it was a positive thing. It exceeded all our expectations for how well it benefited the air program,” Stone said.
Following last year’s success, CBMR and the RTA were able to secure approximately 10,000 additional airline seats for air service this winter, including service on Delta Airlines, which hasn’t flown into the local airport for nearly a decade. “We do have 10,000 more seats to fill, so we feel this is really important to our strategy,” Stone said of the town’s contribution.
Council member Bill Babbitt asked if the promotion was being offered on all three airlines serving the Gunnison Valley this winter.
Stone said it was.
Stone also highlighted separate marketing efforts the resort was conducting, including a $30 credit for luggage, as well as various magazine and newspaper inserts and advertisements. Stone also noted an upcoming ski movie by Warren Miller, which features a large segment on the Crested Butte area that was filmed last winter.
After Stone’s presentation, town manager Joe Fitzpatrick said the town had $192,000 available in admissions tax funds.
Council member Gary Keiser asked if the town had made its commitment to the Tourism Association for the year. Fitzpatrick said the $250,000 contribution to the Tourism Association had been made, as well as contributions to the Crested Butte Music Festival, Mountain Garden, and several others.
Keiser said he thought the Friends and Family Fly Free was a great program.
Council member David Clayton said he looked forward to having the additional airline seats, and was glad to see CBMR making an effort to fill them. “That could be 40,000 plus additional skier days. That’s fantastic… We need to keep growing airline service,” Clayton said.
With that, Clayton made a motion to approve the contribution. The council unanimously supported it. Council members Wendy Fisher and Mike Kube were absent.