The inaugural flight of Continental Airlines' summer service from Houston to Yampa Valley Regional Airport arrived Thursday night.
The 50-passenger jet arrived at 7:30 p.m. and brought in 29 people, the majority flying in to enjoy the scenery and outdoor adventure the Yampa Valley offers.
"I looked at the green and the mountains, and my spirit soared," said Molly Barrow, who came to visit her friend Karen Bennett in Steamboat Springs.
That is exactly what the flights were intended to do. Promoting air travel to increase tourism has proved successful for ski resorts during the winter, but this was the first attempt to bolster summer tourism.
The Fly Steamboat program in the winter is subsidized by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, which receives much of its funding from the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the city of Steamboat Springs.
For the summer program, the SSCRA needs to raise $250,000 to guarantee the flights to Continental Airlines. They approached the Craig Chamber of Commerce and Moffat County Tourism Board last fall with an offer to be included in the program, as well as help fund it.
The city of Craig and the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership each contributed $2,500 to the $250,000 guarantee. The Moffat County Tourism Association contributed $5,000 specifically for marketing and promotion of tourism in Craig and Moffat County.
Questions were raised about whether the flights would have a significant impact on tourism west of the Yampa Valley airport, because Steamboat Springs is the target for most tourists. But officials feel this opportunity is worth the cost.
"Tourism is a major factor in Moffat County, and these flights will help enhance that," said Tom Flavin, executive director for the EDP.
Steve Miller, the sales and marketing coordinator for the Moffat County Tourism Association, said the most important part of this agreement was the relationship it would build with Steamboat. "We want to use this as a springboard for other projects for the Yampa Valley as a whole," he said.
Cathy Vanatta, executive director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, said it may look like Steamboat might be getting more use out of the flights now, but a possible extension of the flights into hunting season would be a big boost for Moffat County tourism.
Associations involved with the flight program are hoping the Yampa Valley residents will take advantage of direct flights to and from Houston. The flights will save long drives to fly out of Denver International Airport, and with the new flight added, officials say prices and availability should become much more competitive.
"From personal experience, Hayden (and the Yampa Valley Regional Airport) can be very viable for people from Craig," Miller said.
The decision for the flights to come from Houston was well researched, said Riley Polumbus, public relations director of SSCRA. A key factor was that the Houston market recognized the Steamboat Ski Area and that Houston is a large hub for Continental Airlines, so many connecting flights would be available from other cities.