June 29, 2009 6:00 AM
PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland International Jetport campaign to draw in passengers from around the Seacoast has drawn to a close, but airport officials are hoping its intended effect reverberates through the coming months.
Making use of the Internet, newspapers, the airways and well-known Maine comedian Bob Marley, the jetport sought in recent months to add to its passenger base in a tough time for airlines and airports everywhere, kicking off the campaign early in 2009 when passenger boarding numbers were down about 6 percent, according to jetport Marketing Manager Gregory Hughe
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The campaign aimed to attract passengers who either don’t fly or who currently travel to Boston for their flights. With that effort concluded for the year, jetport officials said they were cautiously optimistic for growth across the region and in the total number of travelers taking to the skies this summer.
Hughes said there continues to be a focus on advertising in York County, but said the jetport does not currently have funds necessary to put together a study and determine how many more passengers are coming from the targeted areas.
He said staff are hopeful that Maine’s natural attractions, which could make for a cheaper vacation, will prove to be a huge draw as the weather improves.
Airport Director Paul Bradbury said in the spring that the goal was to convince those in southern Maine and Seacoast New Hampshire that a trip to Portland is quicker and easier than a trip to Logan Airport in Boston. Bradbury said the Jetport did so in hopes of tapping into a total of 2.2 million passengers he said the company’s research shows are within the Greater Portland trade area.
The biggest pushes for the campaign were in southern Maine and eastern Rockingham County in New Hampshire, according to Bradbury, who acknowledged that those close to Logan and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, N.H., will still mostly choose to head there, especially for flight paths that Portland doesn’t carry.
He said some of the challenge has come from people who don’t think to drive north if their flight is carrying them south, but noted that those living in Kennebunk or Wells can make a trip to the jetport in less than 45 minutes, while a trip to Boston can take upwards of an hour and 45 minutes. Pitching that distance advantage, plus what he said were cheaper parking rates, will hopefully appeal to the gas and money conscious.
“That’s absolutely the hope,” Bradbury said. “That’s the crux of our campaign.”
That campaign prominently featured the familiar Maine-accented voice of Marley, a comedian whose riffs on Downeast life have made him popular in the area.
Hughes said there was some initial reluctance to make use of Marley — “the airlines, transportation and travel are easy jokes for comedians,” he said — but found last year that he was a frequent flyer and an asset for the marketing effort.
“Our theme this year has been convenience, convenience, convenience,” Hughes said. “He’s a perfect spokesman.”
Hughes said the emphasis was on what he called Portland’s competitive pricing thanks to low-cost airline carriers, ample parking and close proximity to the targeted areas to drive the campaign. He said he realizes that with the current economic climate, people are looking for deals, and hopes those close to Portland will be able to find one at the jetport.
“Everybody wants to get a reasonable airfare. You’d be foolish not to,” Hughes said.
Bradbury acknowledged that airports and airlines alike have struggled through the recession with dips in boarding numbers, with The Portland International Jetport slotted firmly in the middle of the smallest and biggest drops.
“The reality is that our base is shrinking,” Bradbury said at the time. “We need to capture a greater percentage of our market and not lose more.”