City grounds airport marketing plan to make way for a different strategy

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focus-marketingColorado Springs officials are hoping a new marketing strategy will save the Colorado Springs Airport from its nosedive of declining passengers and airport activity.

The airport, like so many regional airports across the country, is caught in a swirl of factors including consolidating airlines, a sluggish economy and rising fuel prices.

Every year for the past decade fewer people have boarded airplanes from Colorado Springs Airport. In 2002, there were 1.06 million passengers boarding. This year, airport officials project just 690,204 passengers.

In its most recent blow, Frontier Airlines pulled out of the Springs, where it had 19 percent of the market and an average of five flights a day. Following that news, City officials announced that Colorado Springs airport aviation director Mark Earle was stepping down and they would search for a new director.

Mayor Steve Bach has issued a call for an airport marketing expert — one who has studied strategies on marketing a regional airport in the shadow of an international airport, like Denver, which reported a 7 percent increase in operating revenue and 2 percent increase in enplanements in the third quarter of 2012, compared with the third quarter of 2011.

Bach’s expectation, according to the request for proposal, is for a marketing consultant to define the regional market, assess the overall effectiveness of the existing marketing efforts, develop a retention plan, create a strategy to restore service to previously served markets and write a plan to pursue service opportunities.

But there may be no going back, said Mike Boyd, chairman of The Boyd Group International, an Evergreen, Colo.-based consulting firm. The decline in air service is a reflection of changes at the airlines, including mergers and consolidation and no marketing expert can work their magic on that.

This year, there will be 2 percent fewer seats available on airplanes and a projected 200 fewer airlines by the end of the year, thanks to mergers and consolidation, he said.

“There aren’t many airlines left,” Boyd said. “We see this across the country. You can’t get what isn’t there.”

But that is not the kind of news politicians want to hear, Boyd said. He was asked by several firms to partner on the Colorado Springs RFP but turned them down saying no one can achieve what is in the RFP.

“I can understand the frustration,” Boyd said. “You’re thinking, ‘we’re Colorado Springs. We’re vibrant.’ But you are not as big as Denver and your population growth is north of you in Castle Rock.”

Regional airports, especially those very near large international airports, have a particularly difficult time selling themselves. The Federal Aviation Administration projects over the next 20 years that large airports will continue to grow faster than their smaller counterparts. The report also said that smaller, regional jets would be retired — about 1,000 regional 50-seat jets by 2017.

Colorado Springs is cursed with an international airport — one with three airline hubs slashing prices in the throes of competition — one hour away, Boyd said. Instead of going after airlines, the Colorado Springs Airport ought to focus on the existing routes and see where they can make schedule changes that would connect their flyers to more destinations.

“Mark Earle was one of the best. Losing him was not a positive thing for Colorado Springs,” Boyd said. “There is this expectation that if we do enough research and study we will get the airlines.”

In 2010, the Colorado Springs Airport had seven major and national airlines and seven regional and commuter airlines. In 2011, it had six majors and four regional airlines. In February, Frontier pulled out.

“We all had high hopes with Frontier when they announced they would be starting new flights from Colorado Springs,” said Jan Martin, Colorado Springs city councilor. “It was a real blow when Frontier pulled out.”

Marketing consultant

Assistant Aviation Director Dan Gallagher has assumed the role of director while the City conducts a national search for a new director.

Gallagher, a long-time aviation industry employee, said there are three legs to the airport marketing stool. First there is the math. He outlined a cost recovery model that includes historical loads and retention factors. The airport needs to drive down its costs to give airlines an incentive to add service, he said. For example, landing fees went from $2.10 per aircraft in 2010 to $2.52 in 2011. And per-passenger fees went from $6.80 in 2010 to $8.85 in 2011. The increase in fees helped pump up total operating revenue by $1.1 million in 2011. But Gallagher sees an advantage of lowering fees as an incentive to attract airlines.

The second leg is the marketing analysis, which would show there is demand to and from the Springs, he said.

“Just because Frontier is not here doesn’t mean passengers just stop flying,” he said.

The last leg, and the one over which the airport may have the most control, is marketing the airport to the locals; highlighting the airport’s assets, including low parking fees, shorter lines and food offerings. Gallagher said there also ought to be incentives to fly in and out of the Springs, which might include hotel packages or airline mileage points. Whatever the airport’s marketing program, Gallagher said, it has to be a total approach and not just a few gimmicks.

“We’ve got to do a better job of telling people about our programs,” Gallagher said.

Martin agrees. She is often disappointed when business travelers tell her they drove to Denver to catch a flight.

“I think the idea of doing a real marketing campaign locally would be a good idea to encourage more people to fly out of Colorado Springs,” Martin said.

Martin recalls a conversation with an airline executive a few years back. She wanted to know what it would take to get them to fly in and out of the Springs.

“He said, ‘we need to see that your business community supports the airport,’ ” she said.

Now, 45 percent of Springs flyers drive to Denver International Airport; 82 percent of Monument flyers drive to DIA; and 53 percent of Pueblo flyers drive past Colorado Springs to Denver, according to the details in the RFP.

The RFP calls for a marketing strategy that includes partnering with the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Joe Raso, Business Alliance CEO, said he’s already reached out to airport directors across the country to study best practices. The airport is part of the business community’s infrastructure and he’s hearing concern through a series of surveys about the lack of service at the airport.

“One of the biggest concerns they have is with air service in the region,” Raso said. “The level of satisfaction was below what we want to see.”

Amy Long, CVB vice president marketing and partnerships, is convinced that the missing market is right in Colorado Springs’ backyard. The CVB advertises the airport in its visitors guide and mentions it, links and tweets it in every conversation with potential visitors. But Long believes the locals ought to give the Colorado Springs Airport a try.

“Don’t assume that Denver is your only choice,” she said. “Give this airport a chance, it will deliver.”

It’s possible that if more locals use the Colorado Springs Airport more airlines will be interested in expanding service, Martin said.

“It’s a dilemma — like the chicken and the egg — do you get more flights to attract people or do you get more people to bring in more flights?”

14 Responses to City grounds airport marketing plan to make way for a different strategy

  1. There are a lot of factors to consider with this issue. But creating a marketing campaign is not the solution. Building an authentic brand around the airport and living up to walking the talk is a key foundational piece that is being overlooked. Brand building starts internally, not with a marketing campaign.

    For more on this topic read my latest blog

    April 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm

  2. The city should stay out of this one. If there is demand, the airlines will serve it. If there isn’t, one more government subsidy isn’t going make a difference in the long run.

    If we want more service out of COS, we should make an effort to fly in/out of COS. People should do the math. It’s 90 minutes to DIA and 90 minutes back. Value your time, include the cost of gas, wear and tear on your car, CO2 emissions, time away from family, lost sleep, etc. A trip would have be $200 less expensive out of DIA to be worth the drive (more for some folks, less for others).

    Dave Gardner
    April 15, 2013 at 4:09 pm

  3. Every week my wife drives to Denver because the connections to her eastern business destinations aren’t there to make it in a reasonable time from COS. We’ve tried each time that a new destination comes up, and it logistically does not work out. She’d rather leave from Denver late afternoon than late morning from COS, and get there in shorter time.

    Ed Brady
    April 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm

  4. “I can understand the frustration,” Boyd said. “You’re thinking, ‘we’re Colorado Springs. We’re vibrant.’ But you are not as big as Denver and your population growth is north of you in Castle Rock.”

    That’s all true except the vibrant part. This is a town excited over thrift stores. The bottem line is that Colorado Springs has goofed up its chances to compete against the massive forces which are vaulting cities all over the world. Instead of delusional thinking, that is CS is just like Denver so where’s our dia like airport, CS should have said “we realize the future isn’t the past and we are imcreasingly isoalted and regional, so as such how can partner with Denver and weather the storm of global forces together?”.

    But that isn’t somethon CS can do because it thinks its in Denver’s league. Hence low cost bargain and cheap excite the springs.

    Thank God We Left
    April 16, 2013 at 7:13 am

  5. At least part of the problem is that COS is focused on appearances and less on substance. My car was vandalized there (an entire wheel was stolen) despite being parked near to the terminal entrance. Even worse was the lack of response from three different departments (CSPD, Parking Admin and Airport Admin) when I tried to file a theft report. They’re more interested in the gloss like Olympic adornments and new shops and restaurants when they don’t even have core processes in place to handle security enforcement and reporting.

    COS just isn’t in DIA’s league in terms of professionalism.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:42 am

  6. City of Colorado Springs RFP’s are ridiculous! The time, money, & intellectual capital spent to prepare is simply NOT worth the effort! I have also approached national firms to partner on Springs RFP’s and the response has usually been “‘Ya gotta be kidding!?” Don’t believe me …. take a bit of time & download a City RFP and get ready to be befuddled!

    April 16, 2013 at 11:03 am

  7. The Business Alliance, city, and real estate interests need to work together to attract a large company whose employees use a lot of air travel. Get the company to commit to a relocation to Colorado Springs, based on attracting a new airline or the equivalent. Then take the commitment to an airline. Regular business travel is the bread and butter of airlines: it’s like a minimum guaranteed revenue. It’s no different than using a contingent commitment for an order to leverage a loan, additional distribution, etc. Yes, it’s about airport marketing…but it’s still about marketing. Just find ways for everyone to benefit, and you’ll secure the increased air traffic you desire.

    Wendy S. of WenMark
    April 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm

  8. Wendy

    Would one component of your proposal to attract large companies be a serious effort directed at what has kept large companies from moving here once they have been ‘courted’? They Came – They Saw – They Left.

    It there is definable reason why Austin, Huntsville and Charlotte are drawing in new firms – – and the Springs is not – would it be prudent to begin to find out why before spending money to attract firms who will say ‘no’ for the same reason?

    Rick Wehner
    April 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm

  9. And that’s the rub. That company who has employees that travel and money to spend is going look at Colorado Springs, then look at Denver, and never look at colorado springs again. It would be foolish and risky to move any decent non Olympic/military business to CS.

    You really have a one horse town here, and it seems the mayor and others are just too proud to admit the town has no future except to hope that Denver can draw enough energy that some of that energy can pass down the Palmer divide. The airport is likely as big as it will ever be for years to come at this very moment today. It could very well have even less flights in 5 years.

    Denver on the other hand will likely have more flights and Boulder will have more wealth. Must be Gods will?

    Thank God We Left
    April 16, 2013 at 7:55 pm

  10. Dave Gardner said “A trip would have be $200 less expensive out of DIA to be worth the drive”

    …that’s how much it cost me to replace my wheel stolen while in COS long term parking.

    Add to that the lack of affordable commuter transport (buses and shuttles) between the airport and the city, and the logical conclusion is that COS only makes sense for residents that can bum a ride from a relative or friend to/from the airport. Business travelers (unless lodged at a hotel with complimentary shuttles) are stuck with the cost of a taxi, which costs about $50 for a trip from COS to the north-west side of town … the same cost as a shuttle from Colorado Springs to Denver Airport!

    DIA ends up being comparable in cost overall unless you’re willing to risk COS’s long term parking with their “Andy of Mayberry” attitude about security. It truly pains me that I live in the city where they are clueless about what’s wrong, but it reflects my experience with the theft of my wheel in that there was no accountability nor willingness to acknowledge the problem. COS airport needs to build infrastructure over gloss.

    Building “brand”? They’re already a pretty airport, just not very good at what we expect they’re supposed to do.

    April 17, 2013 at 3:31 am

  11. Mark Earle is another of the City’s scapegoats. The City will spend thousands of dollars doing a nationwide search to find the “ideal candidate” to replace him, only to be faced with the same challenges that are beyond his or her control.

    It’s foolish to think that throwing money at another marketing campaign is going to fix the problem of poor airport usage. Lets see if the marketing pros can top the delusional “Live It Up” campaign that was thrown at us. What a joke. Fun and games at the expense of the taxpayers.

    It’s time City leaders start making decisions to better the community at large, for the citizens who choose make Colorado Springs home, for whatever reason. Their collective, dysfunctional thinking of “a bigger city is a better city” isn’t working.

    April 17, 2013 at 2:12 pm

  12. Although I love and appreciate our airport, perhaps the money would be better spent on a study to build a rail line from the Springs to DIA. Let’s stop frustrating ourselves and instead have a rail that would get us to DIA in an hour. That might actually let us attract some businesses here, if they aren’t already turned off by our mayor or the close-minded attitudes that permeate the Springs. Being the “conservative capital of the West” keeps employment away, but maybe a rail link could help that.

    April 17, 2013 at 5:39 pm

  13. I absolutely love our airport-Where can you go and feel like you have your own airport-15-20 minute’s from home, less expensive parking-and did I mention-CONVENIENT. It’s so right-sized right now for our community and has so much potential for growth. I leave out of our airport every chance I get and for me it would have to be at least $300 difference in ticket to leave out of Denver….The drive up from her is 80+miles and 80+ back and if you want to park in a convenient spot next to the airport and not have to deal with a parking lot that’s far away and wait on a bus to take you back and forth-it’s going to cost you much much more….I’ve been traveling from our airport for the past 17 years I have never experienced vandalism or theft of a vehicle-I do drive nice vehicle-I am saddened by the recent post that one of our previous community members experienced this and feels they weren’t taken care of properly by authorities-Maybe it is just that-Vandalism and theft hasn’t been one of our issues at the airport and it was a new experience…I don’t know…From my experience-and as we get older everything can be about experience-the cost or perceived savings going to Denver isn’t there for me and I appreciate having the convenience of Colorado Springs Airport.

    April 19, 2013 at 8:38 am

  14. Stacey, I hear you about your experiences from past 17 years and I can vouch that my coworkers say the same thing. All I can say is that I had a cheap compact car (with CO plates) and it was still a target. It was probably a fluke, but I’ve never been robbed/vandalized in my 40 years in CA.

    In the case of COS airport, I’m willing to grant that my vandalism was a random event and not the experience of many others. What wasn’t a fluke was the 3 Stooges attitude that followed as I merely tried to perform a civic duty (as I learned in my small CA hometown) to report a crime. Granted this hardly ever happens, but When CSPD and Parking Admin and the airport itself show a lack of interest in taking ownership of the problem, that indicates a serious lack of professionalism and accountability in their duties and their organization.

    I hope you and others don’t have the same experience, but as I’ve seen the extent of the COS security (consisting of entirely the shuttle drivers) and the protocol for dealing with a crime (“ask the other guy”) I’ll not risk my car at COS again for a long while. Parking Admin was gracious enough to let me file a claim and then promptly emailed me that they decided it wasn’t their responsibility.

    They are seriously lacking in basic infrastructure, and as long as you don’t run afoul of the criminal element that seems pervasive in south COS, you should be OK. But as an outsider I’ll tell you that with the existing regime, Long Term Parking is basically a shopping mall for thieves who know the owners are gone and that a clueless and apathetic security are easily outflanked if they’re shopping for parts.

    You said “I absolutely love our airport-Where can you go and feel like you have your own airport-15-20 minute’s from home, less expensive parking-and did I mention-CONVENIENT.”

    …well I say the same about Santa Barbara Airport back where I live in CA, where I’ve never been vandalized and they have real security patrols instead of Keystone Kops. Like you (and others) I’d rather go to Santa Barbara airport than LAX, which is why I was so enamored with COS in the first place.

    The cost or perceived savings going to DIA isn’t there until you’ve had to deal with the ugly side of COS’s non-existent security. Park your cars at COS and say a nice prayer and maybe you never will.

    April 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm