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Regional approach at airport

Landing airline proposals in the hopes of increasing flights moving in and out of the Reno/Tahoe International Airport may be as demanding as air traffic control.

As interested airlines like West Coast Airlines start to line up outside the gates of the biggest little city, a heavy-hitting Tahoe-Reno marketing collective of business leaders is forming to help the Washoe County Airport Authority deal with such offers.

The mission of this offshoot of the Regional Convention and Visitors Authorities is multi-layered but succinct:



— Evaluate proposals from prospective airlines interested in doing business out of the Reno airport.

— Develop an institutional plan and criteria to weed through such offers.



— Decide how to best promote the attributes of the Reno and Lake Tahoe region as a whole.

— Discover new ways to increase business travel.

— Create an internal regional plan in the next few weeks to be incorporated in the airport’s master plan.

— Boost the number of available seats and flights through either new or existing airlines moving to and from the airport.

“Obviously, by looking at the current statistics, air service development has not been successful,” Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Authority Director Steve Teshara said Wednesday, calling the situation a crisis.

The day before, Teshara brought the group’s intentions to the attention of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce board, of which he is a member.

“It’s a very serious concern. It’s captured the attention of tourism leaders and a lot of people are very concerned about it,” he said Tuesday. “We and other organizations are going to have to get aggressively involved.”

Teshara cited this January’s numbers in comparison to last year’s. They showed a 22 percent drop in the number of seats available, which equates to a loss of 147,000 seats. The Washoe County Airport Authority concurred with the figures.

Passenger counts for the same period also show an 8 percent decline.

Teshara, who attended the core group’s meeting last month, said the community needs to woo airlines into doing business with the airport.

Other tourism marketing professionals agree.

“We need to develop a more coordinated approach to court more carriers,” said Carl Ribaudo of the Strategic Marketing Group, who serves on the local airport advisory committee.

It will probably involve a whole new perspective of the region – one that positions it as a business travel destination too.

Many airlines – American included – have focused recent efforts on boosting the number of flights and markets that specifically cater to the business traveler.

The airport authority welcomes the help.

“Yes, the demand has to be created,” airport authority spokesman Adam Mayberry said.

Daryl Drake of Drake Realty, also involved in the marketing collective, believes the regional approach should include touting redevelopment efforts in Lake Tahoe.

“If we added what happened with the redevelopment in South Lake Tahoe into the mix, from a regional perspective, it makes a lot of sense to market that,” Drake said.

“We need to shout what we have,” said Harrah’s Director of Marketing Barry Phillips, who’s taking part in the marketing collective.

Phillips said the group discussed developing spot advertising campaigns in airport hubs to position Reno and Lake Tahoe as key travel destination choices.

“We need to help fill those seats, and that’s exactly how you do it,” he said.

The marketing expert believes the effort to court airlines won’t necessarily require subsidies like those the Mammoth Airport has offered American Airlines to fly in and out of the Sierra Nevada ski town.

But that’s part of the proposal to be presented next week by West Coast Airlines, a Concord-based start-up in business for more than two years.

“We have an immediate need for subsidies from investors,” spokeswoman Meme Sharp said Wednesday. “We were going to concentrate on doing business in California but since Reno expressed such a need, we feel we’ll definitely be a solution to the problem.”

Sharp referred to the loss of flights and Reno as a hub when American bought Reno Air almost two years ago.

The airline hopes to buy four 115-passenger DC-9 aircraft and boost employment from 25 to 1,000 staffers within six months.


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