At Akron-Canton, dedicated marketing is making a difference
AKRON, OH – In August, the Akron-Canton Airport some 30 miles south of Cleveland set a new record for monthly
passenger counts. It’s the third time this year they’ve set a record at CAK, and overall for 2002 the airport has seen a 23 percent jump in airline passengers. At a time when few U.S. airports are witnessing airline traffic growth, CAK officials are reaping the benefits of a six-year program to boost marketing and work more closely with airline tenants.
"It’s butts in seats," says CAK airport director Fred Krum, "which is crude but accurate.
"It’s a lot easier to get more seats than to put butts into the ones you have. When you run very high load factors, then it’s real easy to go to an airline [for new service]. You put passengers on those airlines and life is wonderful."
It was not always so wonderful. Prior to 1996, Akron-Canton was part of the downward spiral which many smaller commercial airports have experienced since deregulation. On the other side of the equation, however, the airport has benefitted by being the No. 2 airport in a market of some 4.2 million people, more than a million of them closer to CAK than to nearby hub Cleveland Hopkins International.
Explains Krum, "We had been in the dumper, basically. We had mainly Metroliners, 19-seaters – a lot of planes that people didn’t like.
"This business is really a momentum business, and our momentum was downward. We had had four straight years of down. We were talking to carriers and nobody wanted to come. Then we came across AirTran, and they decided to come in February 1, 1996, and since then we’ve been on an upward trend."
Krum recalls that during his initial contact with AirTran, officials with the carrier were most interested in the type of marketing the airport was doing and who was the person heading up the effort. He relates that he was the marketing contact, and that the effort was at best minimal.
"I did a little marketing here and there; a few ads, nothing you would call a program," he says. "When I went down to visit AirTran in the fall of 1995, they asked if I had a marketing director, because the airports they use need a marketing director to help them be successful. I said, ’I’m getting one,’ which was an honest answer because at that very second I decided to get one. It took a few months."
Developing a Marketing Program
By mid-1996, Krum had found his marketing director, Kristie Van Auken, who had been working as an economic development specialist for the Chamber of Commerce. Recalls Van Auken, "The mid-90s were tough on regional airports. We were part of that whole trend. He [Krum] was feeling a little battered."
Her first task was to work with Krum in putting together a program, with a first-year budget of $60,000, she says. Today, her annual marketing budget has been holding around $400,000 annually.
Explains Van Auken, "I essentially went in there and looked at the distribution of airline tickets and how we could affect that distribution. We put together a plan that started hammering at the different distribution elements. The travel agency mix was very important then and we found that they didn’t even consider us. So we put together a travel incentive program for them.
"And we put out a whole new image of how we speak to the outside world: a new logo; brochures for hotels, travel agencies, core leader groups; an economic impact report that we could go out to the local community with for support."
Van Auken also researched how the local market viewed Akron-Canton Airport for use as a baseline in creating an advertising campaign. A big part of that campaign has been with billboards and with the Internet, she explains, with the airport website (www.akroncantonairport.com) attracting some 40,000 hits a month.
The Thursday event marked the commencement of seasonal nonstop service to Ft. Myers, Fla. Airport director Fred Krum said the AirTran-owned Boeing 717 was four passengers shy of its 117 capacity.
Last year, a total of 1,723,956 passengers traveled in and out of the airport. The number in 2012 was 1,838,083.