Calculator on Ill. Airport Web Site Takes Look at Competition

March 9, 2006
Willard Airport might pick up one of every three travelers it loses to competing airports if those passengers consider driving costs and the value of their time.

Mar. 7--CHAMPAIGN -- Willard Airport might pick up one of every three travelers it loses to competing airports if those passengers consider driving costs and the value of their time.

That's what recent data from the CMI Tripster cost calculator seem to indicate.

The calculator was launched on Willard's Web site,, on Nov. 28. Its purpose: to get travelers to consider factors other than just air fares when deciding which airport to use.

The calculator allows users to make airport comparisons after inputting information including:

--The round-trip air fare from Willard.

--The round-trip air fare from a competing airport.

--The cost of gasoline.

--The number of days their car will be parked at the airport.

--The value of their time.

The calculator also asks travelers how many people will be flying in their party and from where they will be driving.

Last month, the folks who devised the calculator analyzed the first 260 customer queries and their results. When all the factors were considered, Willard had the better price 85 times and the worse price 175 times.

Most of the comparisons involved Indianapolis International Airport, Central Illinois Regional Airport at Bloomington and Midway Airport in Chicago.

When compared with those airports, Willard won 37 of the 101 comparisons with Indianapolis; 17 of the 63 comparisons with Bloomington; and 30 of the 61 comparisons with Midway.

It lost all 21 comparisons with O'Hare, all seven comparisons with Peoria and both of the comparisons with Decatur. It won one of the five comparisons with Springfield.

Tom Costello, chairman of the Champaign County Economic Development Corp. and a member of Willard's marketing committee, said he found some of the findings interesting.

"I was surprised by Midway; I thought it would be much more of a competitor than Indy. Really, Indy is the major alternative airport of choice. I expected it to be Midway or O'Hare," he said.

CMI Tripster was devised by Roundtable, a Champaign-based company that's worked with the airport's marketing committee.

Larret Wright, chief executive officer of Roundtable, said that of Willard's 85 "wins," 65 would have "lost" to other airports if ticket price alone was considered.

"This is the point of Tripster," he said. "CMI Willard can and does offer value to many travelers if they look deeper than just ticket price."

However, he added, "Tripster is not intended to be a hyper-analytical travel calculator."

Costello noted that if a large family is flying to Florida, the family will likely fly from wherever fares are the lowest. But a person traveling on business may simply want reliable service and not want to drive a long distance after flying back.

Wright said Tripster's results hinge partly on how people value their time.

"If you factor that time-and-value equation into it, it's possible for CMI to perform well (in comparisons)," he said. "When people don't value their time, it makes it more challenging."

Some situations simply aren't very winnable, Wright said.

"A family of six traveling is difficult for us to win, even if they value their time very highly," he said.

STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE THE AIRPORT: Willard Airport's marketing committee is considering several ways to make Willard more attractive, committee member Tom Costello said.

The strategies include:

--Lobbying airlines to keep fares competitive. The University of Illinois, which operates the airport, is working with a consultant and urging airlines that fly into Willard American Eagle, Northwest Airlink and Delta/Comair to charge competitive fares, mindful that no discount carrier serves Champaign-Urbana.

--Looking for other sources of revenues so Willard doesn't have to charge for parking. The airport is studying other possible long-term uses of its property that might bring in revenue streams.

--Adding a new route to the East Coast or West Coast. Chip Zukoski, the UI's vice chancellor for research, has said a West Coast destination would be helpful in accommodating people flying between Asia and the UI campus.

--Figuring out the most user-friendly way to refer to the airport. Currently, the airport's logo incorporates both "Willard" and "CMI," the three-letter code the Federal Aviation Administration has assigned to the airport.

Willard is named for former UI President Arthur Cutts Willard, but not everyone loves the name.

"I don't think Willard or CMI cuts it," Champaign City Council member Tom Bruno said at a recent Champaign County Economic Development Corp. meeting. "I don't think it (Willard) has marketing panache. It sounds like a rat."