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Travelers planning a trip to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina likely will fly into Savannah Hilton Head International Airport in Savannah, Ga., about 40 miles west of the popular vacation destination.
Vacationers traveling to Yellowstone National Park — which spreads across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho — likely will land at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, just outside Belgrade, Mont., about 10 miles northwest of Bozeman.
Both airports changed their names to take advantage of popular tourist attractions and increase traffic at their facilities by marketing the airports as the top options for fliers.
“We were trying to simplify things and improve the branding of our airport,” said Brian Sprenger, director of the Bozeman airport.
A committee of the Outagamie County Board of Supervisors hopes to accomplish a similar feat as it explores changing the name of Outagamie County Regional Airport in Greenville — again.
The airport’s FAA code designation is ATW, short for Appleton, Wisconsin. It is recognized by pilots, baggage clerks and frequent fliers, but few others.
Supervisor Tanya Rabec, who chairs the committee that has been meeting since May, is well aware that others have tried to rename Outagamie County Regional Airport and failed. The most recent attempt came in April 2011, when outgoing Outagamie County Executive Toby Paltzer suggested changing the facility’s name to Appleton Regional Airport.
“Changing the name has been kicked around for several years, but we never have done any extensive research into it and there was nothing to support whether changing it would benefit the airport,” Rabec said. “The idea now is to research it and hopefully come forward and say whether it’s a good thing or it just doesn’t make sense.”
Rabec said the committee, which meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the county board room in Appleton, is open to suggestions.
“Everyone on the committee seems to have an open mind on the issue,” she said. “Everyone really just wants what’s in the best interests of our airport and community.”
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson said there is community support to rename the airport.
“I think a number of people are on board and in particular the business community wants to do whatever they can to advance the distribution of our airport,” Nelson said. “The airport is the central economic driver for our community and directly and indirectly is a source for thousands of jobs.”
Lori Lynah, director of marketing and air service development for the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport, said the facility added “Hilton Head” to its name in 2003 because about half of the airport’s nearly 1.7 million annual passengers travel to the island.
Before the name change, Lynah said the Savannah airport was not always the first option for travelers. Generally, larger neighboring airports in Jacksonville, Fla., or Charleston, S.C. — both about two hours away from Hilton Head — were suggested to travelers who booked flights online.
“It was all about marketing to increase the awareness that people who wanted to go to Hilton Head were likely to fly into Savannah,” said Lynah, who noted that the Savannah airport was working to market Hilton Head as a tourist destination before the name change.
Similarly, Gallatin Field Airport outside Bozeman, Mont., became Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in December 2011. The name change sought to draw attention to its proximity to Bozeman, one of Montana’s largest cities, and Yellowstone National Park.
“Travelers may not know where Gallatin County is or they may not know where a lot of other county airports are located,” said Sprenger, who noted that Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport serves about 880,000 passengers annually.
Sprenger said there was some resistance to changing the facility’s name, but ultimately the community realized the potential economic benefits.
Though neither the Savannah airport nor the Bozeman facility have seen dramatic increases in passenger traffic following the name change, representatives from both airports say the decision was a step in the right direction.
“We had a good year last year, up 9 percent and we were up 9 percent the year before that,” said Sprenger, who noted the passenger traffic at the airport was on the rise before the name change.
“This isn’t wasn’t going to be something that would dramatically change things,” he said. “It is one of many things we could do now that was relatively simple and if it generates more interest, that’s a positive and it absolutely will not hurt us by changing the name. It’s more of a selling point, if it does not hurt us, and there’s a chance it helps, why not change it.”