Wirth: London nonstop first of many coming to Reno-Tahoe | SierraSun.com

Wirth: London nonstop first of many coming to Reno-Tahoe

Rob Sabo

RENO, Nev. — Andy Wirth says last week’s announcement that Thomas Cook Airlines will begin non-stop flights between London and Reno marks the first of many new flight routes from key markets into the region.

It also marks a successful initiative by Ski Lake Tahoe to provide a financial guarantee that will mitigate the risk for the airline if the new services doesn’t meet its load projections.

“It’s very commonplace,” says Wirth, vice chairman of Reno Tahoe Airport Authority’s board of trustees. “We put together a very modest and appropriate revenue guarantee for Thomas Cook Airlines. But the real highlight is how we were able to substantiate a revenue guarantee with multiple partners in the region.”

The new flight — the culmination of concerted efforts by a consortium of regional business entities in gaming, recreation, tourism and travel — marks an important milestone in collaboration to provide increased access to amenities in Greater Reno-Tahoe, Wirth says.

“We will see more of this coming down the line out of this consortium,” says Wirth, who also heads Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. “This is not just about tourism, it’s not about gaming, Lake Tahoe skiing. It is really a function of a truly diversified healthy, sustainable economy, and it’s hard to find those cities that aren’t accessed by air.”

The flight to and from London from Gatwick Airport runs twice a week from mid-December 2015 through early April and is the first direct flight linking Reno and the largest city in the United Kingdom. Reno-Tahoe International Airport also recently announced non-stop service between Reno and Guadalajara, Mexico, on Volaris Airlines.

The London flight was the direct result of an off-the-cuff meeting between RTIA executives and Thomas Cook Airline representatives at an industry conference that’s eerily similar to speed dating, says Brian Kulpin, vice president of marketing and public affairs for the airport.

As competition heats up between airports for flight service, airlines have moved away from one-on-one meetings at corporate facilities to brief interviews at airline conferences where airport executives have 20 minutes to demonstrate their need for additional or new flight routes.

“You get a list of 15 meetings that are about 20 minutes, and there’s a big clock on wall and table after table featuring airlines,” Kulpin says. “You go from one table to next in 20-minute bursts. We had a terrific meeting with (Thomas Cook Airlines), and the seed was planted.”

Cost for the new flight route is backed by a risk-mitigation program created by Ski Lake Tahoe. Wirth says the deal is similar to those in place with airlines that service international ski destinations such as Vail and Steamboat in Colorado or Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Initial round-trip flights to and from London will cost around $650, Kulpin says.

The Wednesday and Saturday air service from Gatwick fits the European schedule for 10-day holiday travel, Kulpin adds. And providing a direct link is crucial for increasing air traffic from travelers on holiday who don’t want to deal with multiple connections, Wirth notes.

“I’d take our collection of resorts an stack them against any other in North America,” Wirth says. “This is really just the start of optimizing this great resource.”

Ski Lake Tahoe’s resorts include Squaw/Alpine, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe, Northstar California and Sierra-at-Tahoe.

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