A few new flights this summer could add up to a whole lot of first-time tourists in Monterey County, which potentially could mean an influx of new money for local hotels and other visitor-driven businesses.
The Monterey Peninsula Airport in the past month has added two nonstop daily flights to Las Vegas and Denver. In August, it plans to add daily nonstop service to Salt Lake City.
Tourism industry leaders are hailing the new flights as an opportunity to branch into untapped travel markets. Nearly 50 of them attended a reception recently to celebrate America West Airlines' inaugural flight from Las Vegas.
"I think it's overdue," airport General Manager Tom Greer said of the new service. "We would've been happy with one flight. The fact that we got all three of them is such a wonderful thing."
That airlines are willing to invest in the Monterey airport speaks highly of the market's potential, said Philip Gee, an America West Airlines spokesman.
"The airline industry is not doing so hot right now. We're only going to be adding service that we think will be doing well," he said. "We're very confident that it's going to work."
On June 17, America West Airlines began offering nonstop daily flights to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Flights from Las Vegas have a scheduled 1 p.m. arrival; flights depart Monterey at 1:40 p.m.
On June 7, United Express carrier SkyWest Airlines began daily nonstop service to its hub airport in Denver. SkyWest, also a carrier for Delta and United Airlines, will begin flights to Salt Lake City on Aug. 1.
Local tourism industry leaders flew to Denver last week to pitch Monterey County as a tourist destination to area meeting and event planners. Those who made the trip included event planners and sales directors from Quail Lodge and Bernardus Lodge resorts in Carmel Valley, as well as John McMahon, president and CEO of the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In order to keep the Denver flight, it's important to lock in business from the city, McMahon said. "As quickly as we receive those flights we can lose them," he said.
The new flights have generated a lot of buzz for the once-sleepy airport off Monterey-Salinas Highway at Olmsted Road. It recently began working closely with McMahon's visitors bureau and has launched marketing campaigns with various area hotels and Web site directories.
On Thursday, it will host "Flying High on the Peninsula," an after-hours mixer for the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.
The attention on the airport is well-deserved and should only help the local tourism economy, said Donna Brady of the Monterey Bay Aviation flight instruction school based at the airport.
"It just helps everybody," she said, "once people come here and see all the things we've got to offer."