RTA passes on the opportunity
When Allegiant Air announced it would provide low-cost winter flights into the Montrose airport this year, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) and the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) had the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. Last week, CBMR officially decided to give it a go, while the RTA has opted to sit this one out.
In September, representatives from the Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization and the Telluride Tourism Board asked CBMR and the RTA to contribute $150,000 toward the new Allegiant Air program. That money would join a larger pool of funds to pay for revenue guarantees for the airline and, more important, they argued, a marketing fund to promote the new service.
Allegiant will provide two flights a week from the San Francisco and Phoenix markets, with starting fares as low as $113 one way from Oakland International Airport and $83 one way from Phoenix Mesa Airport. By joining marketing efforts, the Telluride groups said CBMR and other Gunnison Valley businesses would be represented on the Allegiant Air web site and possibly would be part of wider marketing efforts.
According to Jeff Moffett, CBMR’s director of Crested Butte Vacations, the primary benefit of participation will be the resort’s presence on Allegiant’s web site.
“It allows us to be seen as a destination on Allegiant’s web site,” Moffett said. “Ninety percent of Allegiant sales occur on their web site, and the other 10 percent in their call center. We think it’s important to be listed on the menu and featured as a destination so we can see traffic come to the resort via these flights.”
“It’s traffic that we wouldn’t get otherwise,” Moffett said.
Moffett said the resort signed its letter of intent last week, and is now diving into specifics. “There’s a strong sense of urgency with winter almost here. We want to get it up and running,” he said.
He was unable to comment, however, on whether CBMR committed to the initial request for $150,000 or negotiated a different agreement. Without public entities like the RTA involved—entities that must disclose their financial participation to the public—Moffet said those specifics were proprietary.
The RTA opted not to participate in the Allegiant Air program, based on a recommendation from RTA staff and the board chair. According to executive director Scott Truex, the reasons were primarily financial.
Late last summer, board members from the RTA solicited $80,000 in contributions from local governments. Those funds went above and beyond sales tax collection to cover potential shortfalls for revenue guarantees to airlines serving the Gunnison Crested Butte Regional Airport. Securing additional funds to support the Montrose Airport didn’t make sense to the board.
“It would be pushing it financially, and from our way of thinking we need to focus on the Gunnison airport,” Truex said. He added that board chairman Chris Morgan had rightfully pointed out that the RTA mission statement clearly focuses on the Gunnison airport.
“Anybody can use the service,” Truex said. “Just because we’re not participating doesn’t mean the flights aren’t going to happen. The primary benefit to our valley would have been to the lodging community selling their rooms and the tourist businesses selling their services on the Allegiant web site. But it doesn’t take away from people using those planes to get here.”
According to Moffett, winter bookings into Gunnison are currently about 1 percent ahead of last year. Moffett reported bookings from Dallas and Houston continue to pace well compared to last year.
“American Airlines service from Dallas is doing well because they’re selling more seats on a similar schedule as last year,” Moffett said. By contrast, the Houston flight from United Airlines has fewer seats this year than last. January flights that typically didn’t perform well were removed from the schedule. As a result, the flight isn’t selling more seats but the load factors, or percentage of seats sold per flight, are higher. And as reported last month, the Denver flights continue to underperform.
Moffett remains optimistic. “The Allegiant program is big news this week, but we’ve got a lot of exciting stuff across the board, from the Choice Pass Program to American Airlines being up. There’s a lot of exciting stuff out there.”