Armed with five full years of data to evaluate the success of a taxpayer-funded air service program, Fly Sun Valley Alliance states that it has boosted air travel throughout the calendar year while providing an influx of spending.
Fly Sun Valley Alliance Director Carol Waller reviewed the data from 2014-2018 with the Sun Valley Air Service Board on Wednesday afternoon in Hailey.
In 2012-13, voters in Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley passed special local-option taxes to fund additional air service at Friedman Memorial Airport, as well as marketing for those flights from Visit Sun Valley.
Marketing efforts dovetail with the nonstop flights. Visit Sun Valley Executive Director Scott Fortner said his group has worked with lodging partners to advertise “direct flights and free nights” on the homepage of the Ski.com website. In exchange for booking three nights at a Wood River Valley lodging property, the promotion offers a fourth night free, as well as a $200 flight credit.
Waller said that starting in 2014, once the tax collections and program had begun, enplanements at Friedman grew significantly. She said air travelers have been responsible for $622 million in local spending, based on their responses to surveys commissioned by Fly Sun Valley Alliance.
She broke out each year by quarter. Comparing the first quarter of each year from 2014-2018, she said passenger growth has increased by 46 percent. In the second quarter, encompassing the spring months, air travel grew by 69 percent over that time period.
For the third quarter, which includes summer, the number of air travelers grew by 27 percent over those five years. In the fourth quarter, air travel grew by 49 percent.
Overall, Waller said, the program has helped increase the number of seats on Friedman-bound planes by 66 percent over the five-year period. The airport has had 76,000 new passengers over the past five years.
Breaking down the data further, Fly Sun Valley Alliance has commissioned surveys of air travelers at Friedman in the peak tourism periods of summer and winter for each of the past five years. The research discounted the number of full-time residents of Blaine County who traveled at Friedman, and focused on part-time residents, first-time visitors and repeat visitors who flew in summer and winter.
Waller broke out the results by each of Friedman’s nonstop markets—Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, Portland and Chicago. The flight to Chicago started in December 2017 and offers service in winters only. The flight to Portland was discontinued last year after two years of operation.
A popular connecting flight, Salt Lake City had the highest total of those passengers—130,800—over the five-year period, made up of 26,800 part-time residents, 65,100 repeat visitors and 38,900 first-time visitors.
The flight to Seattle had 52,500 such passengers from 2014-2018, including 12,800 part-time residents, 31,100 repeat visitors and 8,600 first-time visitors.
The flight to Los Angeles had 49,200 of those passengers—11,100 part-time residents, 26,300 repeat visitors and 11,800 first-time visitors.
The flight to San Francisco had 29,800, made up of 6,100 part-time residents, 15,700 repeat visitors and 8,000 first-time visitors.
The flight to Denver had 22,800 of those passengers—3,400 part-time residents, 10,200 repeat visitors and 9,200 first-time visitors.
Portland had about 5,000, while Chicago had 400 but featured a small sample due to the limited time period that the flight operates.
“In the industry, Sun Valley has one of the highest levels of repeat customers,” Waller said. “When people come here, they like it. The key is getting people to come here.”