“Come East, new friends. Come East.”
That was the message for West Coast travelers in February 2012, when Harrisburg International Airport announced Frontier Airlines would be offering nonstop flights to and from its home base of Denver.
With no marketing effort in Colorado by HIA, 41 percent of Frontier trips to the midstate last year still originated in Denver, said Scott Miller, a spokesman for the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, HIA's operator.
With promotion, the sky's the limit.
Hoping to grow that Denver-to-Harrisburg percentage in Frontier's second year, HIA is working with Harrisburg-based Pavone Marketing Group Inc. to develop a strategy to promote the Harrisburg region as a direct flight destination for those seeking to check iconic East Coast attractions off their bucket list.
"This is the first crack at it for us. It's a new dynamic," Miller said of trying to create a fly-in market for frequent leisure travelers at an airport known more for business-related visitors.
Unlike the airport's direct flights to Orlando, the Harrisburg-Denver route could have significant impacts on tourism in both markets, he said.
Since last year's Frontier announcement, HIA has primarily focused on promoting departures to Denver. But the flip side of that equation has been discussed by many, including Frontier, Miller said.
Ahead of the 2012 news, SARAA officials took airline executives around Central Pennsylvania to give them a feel for its destination potential, with stops at notable attractions in Gettysburg, Hershey, Lancaster and York.
The Frontier executives liked what they saw then and in ticket sales. They are coming back early this year and are on board with HIA's promotional push, which could be rolled out in May, Miller said.
"We are very supportive of airports that develop marketing plans to help us drive our business," Frontier spokeswoman Kate O'Malley said. "Partnerships with other airports are usually very successful."
The Harrisburg region's proximity to several major metropolitan areas, including the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore markets, as well as New York City and Philadelphia, strengthens the draw for West Coast travelers, said Ami Zimmerman, an account executive with Pavone who has been working with HIA.
"It's really that idea of history. We've got something the West Coast doesn't have," she said of the East Coast.
But with many historical landmarks within a few hours, several key attractions locally and other selling points, including seasonal and outdoor activities, crafting the right message for the Denver promotion is a challenge, she said.
"We don't have that universal theme yet," Zimmerman said.
It's Pavone's job to create the overarching brand and message. HIA will then work with its marketing company to buy air time or digital advertising space.
Part of that creative development process also includes $20,000 in remaining state grant money for Dutch Country Roads. Miller said the convention and visitors bureaus in that nine-county regional footprint still need to agree to use those funds for the Denver effort.
"This is our first attempt to bring people in," Miller said. "People that fly in here stay longer than those who drive."
About 30 percent of people who fly in and out of HIA originate from out of state, Miller said. But again, it's more business than leisure travel, he said.
"If the grant money is there, it's easier to take something that's existing and make some tweaks," Miller said of the Dutch Country Roads marketing, which was geared toward the road traveler.
The Denver marketing effort, combined with a fourth day of Frontier flights each week, should grow the percentage of out-of-town visitors, Miller said.
Last year, a little more than 7,000 trips, or about 3,500 people, originated in Denver.
"This year I'm hoping to add 1,500 to 2,000 (people)," Miller said.
The economic impact could be significant for the entire region.
"People from within three hours know how close stuff is here," he said.
The key to duplicating this scenario in other markets is education.
Miller declined to say what that education in Denver might cost HIA. SARAA spends about $300,000 to $400,000 annually to market in this region.
"We are committed to having a Denver message," he said.
Frontier Airlines began offering nonstop flights to and from Harrisburg International Airport in 2012.
It has a year-round service to Orlando and a May-to-October service to Denver.
More than 7,000 trips, or 41 percent, originated in Denver last year, according to HIA.
Orlando-Harrisburg trips: 31,840
Denver-Harrisburg trips: 17,212
Total Frontier trips to and from Harrisburg: 49,052
Average HIA-Denver ticket price 2012: $185 each way