It’s not ownership, it’s “butts in the seats” that counts

This week while talking with Branson Airport (BBG) officials they said that the bottom line for the success of the airport is getting “butts in the seats.” Come to think of it, paraphrased a bit to “butts through the door” or “butts to Branson” doesn’t that describe what is necessary for the success of just about every business in Branson?

Substitute the word “guest” for “butt” and that philosophy should surprise no one involved in marketing Branson. It is designed to bring guests to Branson. The more astute individual businesses market to do everything in their power to insure that when a guest comes to Branson they come into their business establishment. Why? Because, in a general sense, no guests through the door means no chance to earn revenue.

In terms of ownership, the Branson Airport is a privately owned entity and the only one of its kind in the country. In terms of Branson’s economy, and the “butts in the seats” necessary to drive that economy, can anyone tell an Ole Seagull what difference the ownership of the airport makes?

An Ole Seagull would suggest, “Not much.” Whether privately or publically owned, convenience of air travel to locals aside, the primary function of a commercial airport is to provide air service. At this stage in Branson’s economic development, the primary value of any airport to Branson’s tourist economy is how many guests that airport causes to come to Branson.

Perhaps, although not as important as the similarity of function between privately and publically owned airports, there is something else to consider. In the typical airport situation, from concept to the operation of its first commercial flight(s), how many millions of dollars are involved in planning, building, getting a carrier(s), initial operating costs etc.? If it’s owned by the public the public pays the majority of the costs if its private, private investors pay the costs. In the case of BBG those costs are in the area of $140 million.

To an Ole Seagull, it’s not a matter of whether or not Branson needs another airport. Quite frankly, what he believes Branson needs is competitive low cost fares that will maximize the use of air transportation to the benefit of Branson’s economy. Most will agree that has not happened up to now. The private entrepreneurs involved with BBG recognized that and saw an opportunity. Now, if things go according to schedule low cost commercial jet airliner service will start from BBG in early May of 2009.

At this point, whether privately or publically owned, BBG is in exactly the same position as any other destination airport. The majority of publically owned airports and the carriers serving those airports are marketed by the public entities owning them. That marketing is done with public funds. In terms of its basic function, why should that be any different with BBG?

Some will say, “Because it’s a for profit entity and no public funds should be used?” They are right, as far as saying it is a for profit entity, but so what? In terms of its basic air transportation function, hopefully BBG is doing what any other airport is doing. Shouldn’t Branson, as a community that markets everything from a pie contest to Ozark Mountain Christmas in an attempt to get guests to Branson, be as supportive of the Branson Airport to the extent that it does the same thing?

To an Ole Seagull it’s not a matter of marketing the airport. It’s more a matter of how that marketing is done. The unique business paradigm and the “for profit” nature of BBG present marketing challenges. With the proper oversight, there should be no problem ensuring that public funds are used to market only in a manner that provides the general public with the same basic information provided by the majority of publically owned destination airports in their marketing.

That same oversight should ensure that no public funds are used to promote the “for profit” aspect of the airport’s operation in any manner, either directly or indirectly. The responsibility for that oversight rests with the public entities providing the funding, the city of Branson and the Branson Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District, and their marketing contractor the Branson /Lakes Area CVB. The effectiveness of that oversight will determine the appropriateness of any public funding used to market the airport.

About Gary Groman aka The Ole Seagull

Editor of The Branson Courier
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