aha! on underserved market potential of Reno-Tahoe: “We’ve identified 25 markets that can be served nonstop with the Embraer 145”
aha! – the “air-hotel-adventure” leisure brand of ExpressJet Airlines – launched operations in October 2021, with Reno-Tahoe International Airport serving as its home base. The airline currently has a fleet of four Embraer 145s, with additional aircraft planned for the Reno base, operating routes including Bakersfield, California; Eugene/Springfield, Oregon; Eureka/Arcata, California; Fresno/Yosemite, California; Medford/Ashland, Oregon; Ontario/Los Angeles, California; Pasco/Tri-Cities, Washington; Redmond/Bend, Oregon; Spokane, Washington; and most recently Palm Springs, California, which launched on 3 January 2022.
“Overall, we’re pleased with how the market has performed,” says Tim Sieber, Head – aha! Business Unit, ExpressJet Airlines. “We knew we were going to market during a shoulder season and then Omicron hit, but bookings for spring and summer are looking really strong. We’re currently serving 10 destinations nonstop from Reno, most with three roundtrips per week. As we build a better data set on market performance, you’ll see us seasonally flex capacity up and down in specific markets.”
aha! seeks to provide travellers in smaller communities, many who have seen air service reduced over the past decade through airline mergers, with convenient, short, nonstop flights to high-quality destinations like the Reno-Lake Tahoe region.
“Reno attracted us for a number of reasons,” Sieber explains. “First, when we looked at the number of hotel rooms to number of airline seats and/or nonstop destinations, we viewed Reno-Tahoe as underserved. Second, we considered the fact that it’s a multi-season destination with great outdoor activities in both winter (skiing) and summer, as well as the gaming aspect. The region offers something for almost everyone. Third, there has been tremendous inbound migration to the region, especially during the pandemic. That should drive VFR traffic. Lastly, the region hosts major events such as Burning Man, the Reno Air Races, and Hot August Nights (a classic car show that attracts visitors from across the country).”
Key considerations in route evaluation
aha! consults with Reno-Tahoe International Airport and the Regional Air Service Corporation (RASC) looking for qualitative data points, such as communities of interest, and which aren’t in the typical datasets used to evaluate a routes’ potential. It also discusses new routes with other partners in the tourism sector, such as the casinos and ski resorts, about where their customers are located.
“We’ve identified about 25 markets that we believe can be served nonstop from Reno-Tahoe International Airport with the Embraer 145,” says Sieber. “Key considerations in our route evaluation are sector distances of under 600 miles where the economics of our aircraft work best and turn-key ground handling solutions. With an average of three rotations a week, the need for a large capital outlay for ground equipment negatively hits the economic analysis of a potential route.”
“A large market of potential customers looking for quick getaways”
In addition to offering value-priced, nonstop flights, aha! plans to partner with resorts, casinos and attractions to “bundle” value-priced vacation packages. “Our strategy is to offer short vacations – two to five nights – at an attractive price point,” Sieber comments. “We think there’s a large market of potential customers looking for quick getaways throughout the year instead of ‘once in a lifetime’ trips. It’s very much like the model that has made Allegiant a great success, just on a much smaller scale.”
aha! recently partnered with Guestlogix, which Sieber explains is a platform that allows the airline to offer curated offers to customers based on their demographic profiles. “We can offer everything from tours of Burning Man art placed around downtown Reno to dinner cruises and helicopter tours of Lake Tahoe. For us, it’s an incremental revenue opportunity but the greater benefit is the overall enhancement to a customer’s aha! experience.”
Looking ahead, the focus for the remainder of 2022 is on building out markets in Reno and bringing the hotel packaging software online. “Looking beyond 2022, we’re reviewing markets where we believe the model can be replicated with a focus on mid-size leisure destinations that offer a range of attractions and that are underserved.”