Gateway or destination?

Airports consider their business model as a gateway and destination.

As some optimists begin to dream about the recovery of air travel, airport owners and operators are considering how they might adapt or improve their offering to generate more revenue.

Some airports are considering a strategic shift from a gateway to a destination in their own right. For an aviation and tourism expert at one of the Big Four accounting firms, the airport is the first and last thing traveller sees and therefore, “the airport is a very important part in the passenger experience.”

One concept is to make better use of large, open plan areas located landside and designed with attractions that people want to visit such as retail, entertainment and food. The aviation expert believes that the areas around airports can be turned into commercial clusters, “You can build hangars, aeronautical training centres, offices of airlines, operators and travel agents, hotels, exhibitions etc.”

Today, most airports restrict amenities to travellers who have passed security, but could this change? The CEO of a retail group operating in many Brazilian airports doesn’t think so, “I feel that the concept of an airport needs to be rescued, we need to go back to basics. An airport exists to process passengers, luggage, airplanes etc. Airports exist because people want to get from one place to the other, when people start relying on the local community as visitors and transform the airport to their needs, then you’re not an airport anymore. An airport exists because it is a necessity for travellers.”

“I feel that the concept of an airport needs to be rescued, we need to go back to basics.”

CEO, airport retail group, Brazil

A major challenge to the concept of transformation is the location of most airports, the retail CEO continues, “Most of the airports are far away from population centres, like the Guarulhos Airport in Sao Paulo. It’s fine in Singapore where you have a dense local population and you can invest USD 1.5 billion in a big indoor fountain to attract people but that isn’t a reality for most airports. What we need to focus on is improving spending per passenger and improve the traveller experience before we try to bring in local people.”

A senior executive at an airport in Mexico agreed, “When you hear a real estate developer saying that an airport should have a huge terminal with a big fountain or attraction, you know that there is some other agenda. I don’t believe in these kind of airport cities, aerotropolis, etc. An airport, is an airport, and you need to be focussed.”

Considering how the industry may change post-pandemic, the managing director of an airport in Brazil does not believe they will have to invest in new attractions to bring people in, “Once a person decides to travel, this person is already taking some risks and the airport is just part of the trip. We have been watching passengers closely and although we have adapted our operations for biosafety, we didn’t observe any significant changes in behaviour or purchasing choices. Turning ourselves into a mall won’t encourage more people to fly.”

“Not looking to expand non-aeronautical opportunities is a backward vision.”

Aviation and Tourism expert, Panama  

And yet, the aviation expert contradicts this view, “Not looking to expand non-aeronautical opportunities is a backward vision that does not respond to how the airport has to be integrated into the entire value chain of travel, nor does it take advantage of opportunities related to real estate.” 

The same source assured that important steps are being taken by airports concessioned to multinational operators, which are trying to replicate the commercial business models of Munich, Paris and Singapore airports, “The lever for this evolution in Latin America is being given through concessions.” 

Do you think airports in Latin America are ready for a transformation? If yes, what sort of transformation would you like to see? Let us know!

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