One of the first things visitors see when they enter the southbound rest area on Interstate 93 in Hooksett is a display touting Stay Work Play, the nonprofit that encourages millennials to make the Granite State their home.
For the new chief of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, the catchphrase might be more helpful if it said “Stay Work Play Fly.”
Since taking the post in October, Airport Director Ted Kitchens said he’s visited chambers of commerce from Concord to Salem, advocating for an airport that has weathered 13 years of passenger decline in the shadow of Boston’s Logan International Airport and changes in the airline industry. He’s turning to young professionals to help convince the airport’s four carriers — Southwest, United, American and Delta — to add more flights and destinations.
“We engaged with all the chambers in the region. We also started to engage with the young professionals networks within the chambers to get their ideas on how we can become more relevant and innovative and how we can increase their engagement with the brand,” Kitchens said during a recent tour of the airport. “What are the things they are looking for when they travel? How do they make their decisions as to which airports they choose?”
The airport also is partnering with the University of New Hampshire and Southern New Hampshire University to conduct research that helps quantify the pain of spending 90 minutes driving to Boston versus the ease of choosing to fly out of Manchester.
“That’s going to vary by mode, by time of day, by what you’re doing, if you’re leisure or business, the purposes of travel,” Kitchens said.
At stake is as many as 700,000 fliers who live within 25 miles of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport who choose Logan instead of Manchester. That’s as much as 80 percent of the market.
“And that is just something that we have to help turn around,” Kitchens said. “I’m not naive enough to think we can get that down to zero or even 50 percent. But if we can take that from 80 to 70 or 60 percent over the next few years, that will show the carriers that the market is supporting the airport.”
One of the best targets within that market: the young professionals who work in the “knowledge economy,” including the tech workers based in the Millyard.
“Thirty-one percent of our employee base in our state is in the knowledge economy, which is a high concentration for a state, higher than Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio,” Kitchens said. “We have a very highly educated and well-compensated workforce here.”
And highly educated people with high disposable incomes like to travel, he said.
Kitchens and his staff included results from a travel survey conducted with the Manchester Young Professionals Network in a recent presentation pitched to Southwest Airlines. What young professionals said they want is hardly a surprise.
“More options. That was loud and clear from the young professionals,” he said. “So we’re doing some innovative things in that realm to try to further educate the carriers about what this community is, what we have to offer and why they need to be here.”
The recent decision by BAE Systems to expand into Manchester in the former Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield building on Goffs Falls Road offers an ace for the airport’s marketing efforts. The defense contractor, New Hampshire’s largest manufacturing employer, expects to add as many as 800 jobs in the Queen City.
“They cited the proximity of the airport as one of the reasons why they chose to expand in Manchester,” Kitchens said.
The arrival of the first-in-the-nation primary season comes as one of the airport’s carriers begins nonstop service to Washington, D.C. An electronic billboard on South Willow Street is already touting the service. The airport is promoting flights to Manchester in a similar campaign in northern Virginia.
“We’re in a cooperative marketing agreement with Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Washington Dulles and Reagan National, to help market in the Manchester market the new Dulles service on United that will start April 1,” Kitchens said. “That’s an example of how we’re increasing our marketing presence throughout the community.”