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Editorial: Here's hoping HIA plan takes off

Growing your business sometimes can be as simple as taking a different view. A new perspective can produce fresh ideas or help you reassess an asset previously undervalued.

Case in point: Harrisburg International Airport.

Traditionally, HIA has been promoted as a departure point. As a result, it's seen a good proportion of its traffic driven by business, whether that's midstate travelers outbound to meetings, conferences and sales calls or their out-of-state counterparts utilizing the airport for similar reasons here.

Similarly, leisure travel from HIA has been focused on getting midstaters somewhere else, whether that's a connection to a large regional hub or a direct flight to a Florida vacation spot.

The addition last year of direct-to-Denver service on Frontier Airlines gave HIA that new perspective that could lead to bigger things.

Last year, Frontier introduced the Denver route from May to October only. It proved to be so successful the Denver flights returned to HIA early this year. Interestingly, with no market effort in Denver, it turned out that 41 percent of trips on Frontier on that route originated in Denver.

Encouraged by that data, HIA is working on a marketing plan to "educate" Denver on the attractions of the midstate. It intends to market itself as a destination, not just a departure point.

That makes sense. In fact, the sheer number of attractions — from Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Hershey and Civil War sites to the midstate's role as the gateway to major East Coast centers such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. — is proving to be a challenge, since identifying a tourism "theme" is difficult.

Still, it hopes to launch the effort in May, the start of prime tourism season.

A more serious hurdle remains, however: money.

HIA has identified about $20,000 in remaining state grant money for Dutch Country Roads, the regional tourism entity comprising Adams, Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties. The convention and visitors bureaus operating in those areas need to approve using it for the Denver marketing campaign.

We think this is an appropriate use of the money. Dutch Country Roads aims to promote drive travel, and bringing more tourists in via HIA to explore our region can only boost the midstate's economy.

A healthy HIA is important to all midstate businesses, however, not just tourism. Growing leisure travel is one more way to ensure that the airport remains viable. And turning the travel equation around to grow inbound traffic could make HIA more attractive to other carriers with additional destinations, to the benefit of all midstate travelers.

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