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CHAPTER 9 Surveys of Area Businesses Many of the issues related to planning and designing surveys of area businesses are common to other types of airport user surveys, and the reader will be referred to those sections of the guidebook where applicable. Note that "area businesses" are typically not restricted to private companies, but include gov- ernment departments and public institutions such as universities and health care providers. 9.1 Purpose of the Survey and the Data to Be Collected Surveys of area businesses and other organizations are undertaken for a number of reasons, such as the following: · Determining the importance of the airport to the business community for use in economic impact studies. · Collecting information on air travel needs for use in preparing cases to present to airlines to attract improved air services at the airport. · Collecting information on business travel characteristics, use of airports in the region for both commercial and business aviation, and desired improvements in aviation facilities and services. · Determining awareness of the facilities and services at the airport and the value of the airport to the community. As with all airport user surveys, the first step in conducting a survey of area businesses is to outline its goals and purpose. (See Chapter 2 for a discussion on specifying goals, defining the purpose of a survey, the importance of doing so, and who should be involved.) 9.2 Survey Methodology Surveys of area businesses and other organizations are perhaps the most difficult of all airport user surveys to perform in a way that gives results that accurately reflect the characteristics and views of the target population. The size and types of businesses, and their air travel requirements and use of airports in the area, vary widely from one business to another. Clearly defining the goals of the survey and the target population of businesses, selecting the appropriate sampling strategy and deciding how to handle non-responses are critical to producing reasonable results. Typically, all organizations in an area will compose the population of interest. To define a sample of these organizations, a list of all of them would ideally be developed, as--unlike air passengers--they cannot be sampled as they make use of the airport. Development of such a list can be difficult, if not impossible, and the surveyed population is often restricted to businesses for which contact information is readily available. 137
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138 Guidebook for Conducting Airport User Surveys Lists of businesses are often obtained by cooperating with local business organizations such as the board of trade, chamber of commerce, or economic development council or corporation. In some instances, such as studies to improve air service at the airport, the local business orga- nization may be a survey co-sponsor and will be willing to send the questionnaire out to its members. In other cases, local business organizations may be unwilling to burden their mem- bers with yet another survey. In these cases other sources, such as telephone directories, may have to be used. Four methods can be used in surveys of area businesses: · Mail--slow and typically gives a very low response rate. It can be more costly than an email/ Internet approach. Use of fax to send the survey request and return responses can reduce the time to conduct the survey and postage costs. However, because of the large amount of junk fax marketing, a fax request is unlikely to be answered unless it is sent to a specific individual. · Telephone--time consuming and costly, difficult to schedule interviews, and as a practical matter limits surveys to a sample of businesses, but response rates are better than mail or fax. A follow-up call may be required if the respondent has to look up an answer to a question. (Section 8.3 discusses telephone surveys in more detail.) · In-person--very time consuming and costly, difficult to schedule interviews, and as a prac- tical matter limits surveys to a smaller sample of businesses than telephone surveys, but can provide a better understanding of the issues and better response rates than mail or Internet surveys. When answers require research on the part of the respondent, a follow-up call may be required. · Internet--easiest and least costly, allows emailed survey requests to be easily forwarded to the appropriate person, and provides flexibility for respondents to complete the Web-based survey at a convenient time and answer the questionnaire in stages. It also facilitates easy follow-up of non-responses and eliminates data entry. Response rates can be low, but can be improved sig- nificantly with telephone contact before and/or after sending the request to participate in the survey. This approach can only be used if email addresses are available, but most business orga- nizations now collect the email addresses of their members. Each of these survey methods are discussed further in Section 2.2. Non-response can be a significant problem with surveys of area businesses, particularly mail and Internet surveys. If the purpose of the survey is to estimate air travel demand and character- istics, non-response is highly correlated with a business's use of air travel. Businesses making lit- tle or no use of air travel will be much less likely to see any value in completing the questionnaire. When analyzing the results, assuming that non-respondents have the same air travel characteris- tics as responding businesses or assuming they do not make any air trips at all could lead to sig- nificant errors. This problem can be reduced, to some extent, by following up with a sample of non-respondents and asking them for general information about the size of their organization and use of air travel. Weighting of responses can be an issue due to the potential differences between large and small businesses. For example, in airport awareness studies, should all businesses be treated equally, or should large businesses be given more weight and, if so, by how much? Similar issues come up in other types of area business surveys for questions not scaled by the size of the business or level of air travel. For example, where businesses are asked "How critical is air service to your business?" should all businesses be weighted equally, or should larger businesses be given more weight? The weighting to be used should depend on the intended use of the results. For example, responses could be weighted by the number of local employees or results reported separately for organiza- tions of various size categories.