Baby you can drive my car
Aspen won’t depend solely on a Vail company this winter to drive customers from the Denver airport to their local lodging.
The Aspen Skiing Co. inked a deal Wednesday that makes a company called Gray Line Worldwide its official resort partner for ground transportation. Gray Line will offer service between Denver International Airport and Aspen/Snowmass, with no stops in between, as well as service between the Eagle County and Pitkin County airports and local lodging.
The move comes two months after the major ground transportation company for Aspen and Snowmass Village was purchased by Vail Resorts Inc. Vail agreed to buy Colorado Mountain Express (CME) for $40.5 million. The deal is anticipated to be completed this fall.
CME’s website said it hauls 420,000 travelers annually from the Denver airport to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Cooper Mountain, Keystone, Aspen and Snowmass.
Chuck Murphy, managing member of Gray Line of Colorado, said he approached Skico officials after Vail made its move and asked if they thought it was a good idea for a Vail-controlled company to haul all those Aspen customers.
The purchase of CME opens the data base of Skico customers to Vail Resort’s ski areas for marketing, Murphy said.
“Naturally that causes us a bit of unease,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.
CME will continue to serve the Aspen market so the access issue remains a concern, he said.
Murphy said his firm, which is the world’s largest sightseeing and tour operator, will offer year-round service to Aspen and Snowmass. It will be on 56-passenger luxury motorcoaches whenever possible. The motorcoaches feature guaranteed window or aisle seating, GPS tracking and on-board DVD systems.
When demand isn’t as high, service will be from one of the smaller vehicles in the Gray Line of Colorado Fleet. The company owns 72 vehicles, ranging from 10-passengers vans to the motorcoaches.
The motorcoaches will be painted with the Skico’s Aspen/Snowmass logo with an aspen leaf and with colorful, eye-catching winter images of skiers.
Service starts Nov. 14 and will grow to up to six departures daily during peak ski season. The motorcoaches will arrive at an Aspen facility, then guests will have the option of continuing directly to where they are staying on mini-buses or vans. Murphy said Gray Line hopes to gain approval to deliver passengers to a facility at the airport.
The proposed fares are $105 one-way between DIA and the Aspen facility or $120 between DIA and the guest’s accommodation. The proposed fare is $60 between Eagle County Airport and the Aspen facility or $75 between that airport and the Aspen accommodation. Gray Line is proposing a $15 fare between Pitkin County Airport and an Aspen accommodation. Those fares must be approved by the PUC.
Murphy said between 20,000 and 30,000 destination travelers head to Aspen each winter from DIA and Eagle County Airport. He hopes to capture at least 25 percent of that business this season, then grow it from there. His firm is dedicated to service over the longhaul, he said. It has the financial resources to hang in there for two seasons or so while the service gets established.
Gray Line acquired the authority to operate regular service in the Aspen/Snowmass market in a bankruptcy auction of another ground transportation company seven years ago, according to Murphy. The authority is granted through the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Gray Line never exercised that authority until now because of CME’s lock on the market. “It’s tough competing against CME because they do such a good job,” he said.
However, Gray Line isn’t a complete stranger to the Aspen market. It was contracted by SkyWest, operator of some United Express flights, to handle ground transportation on motorcoaches when flights were diverted to Grand Junction last winter because of poor weather in Aspen. The firm also operates tour and charter transportation services to destination throughout Colorado, including Aspen.
Gray Line’s recipe for success at Aspen includes providing quality service, Murphy said. The company will provide a concierge facility at DIA along with meet-and-greet service the moment guests land in Denver.
It needs to get the community’s support in promoting it with customers who fly in and book ground transportation. Skico already has pledged to promote Gray Line in its marketing efforts, Hanle said.
Lastly, Murphy said, Gray Line will be successful by recruiting and retaining good employees. The company is already recruiting for the winter.
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