The airport revenue growth challenge – learnings from around the globe

This is a viewpoint from Chris Warrington, general manager, airports, at Gentrack.

More than nine million passengers take to the skies around the world for business or leisure travel, passing through the hundreds of airports scattered around the planet’s cities.

One would expect that airport revenue is booming. But this is not the case.

What is causing the decline in airport revenue, and is there a way to boost revenue and improve the passenger experience, at the same time?

In a recent article named ‘Airline profits: ready to depart’, The Economist highlighted airports’ decreasing ability to make money.

A combination of the rise of Uber, long security queues that cause passenger fatigue and boring shops in the wrong places are causing a drop in both parking income and passenger spend.

This lack of revenue-generating potential, coupled with already-squeezed capacity impacting airports’ ability to grow aeronautical revenue, makes future income growth doubtful, according to the author.

Many airports, however, are bucking this trend.

In addition to terminal expansions, forward thinking airports are investing in a new kind of technology that uses passenger flow, airline data and airport operations to support more flexible business and retail models.

This way, they’re running leaner operations and boosting non-aeronautical revenue, all of which leads to increased profits and more satisfied customers.

Danish design focus extends to the airport experience

One of the biggest impacts on airport retail revenue is lengthy queues – passengers are stressed and tired and their in-airport dwell time is considerably shorter; two factors that together result in reduced spending.

Blip Systems research has shown that relaxed and satisfied passengers regularly spend up to €0.20 per minute at airport concessions after passing through security, but this can be reduced by as much as 30% following a delay of just 10 extra minutes at security.

In response, several airports, including Copenhagen, have placed customer experience at the centre of their strategy, with the aim to improve passenger satisfaction and increasing revenue.

One of Copenhagen’s investment priorities is security screening. With a flow management system, the airport is now able to manage queues more effectively and reduce wait time.

By connecting passenger flow information with flight data, the airport can easily and accurately forecast passenger volumes and allocate staff to high-traffic areas to prevent potential bottlenecks.

In 2016, 97.6% of passengers at the airport cleared security in less than 15 minutes. This speedy processing provides two advantages – significantly higher passenger satisfaction, and plenty of time left for retail spending.

In 2016, concession revenue increased by more than 8%, with improved shop and brand mix, including specialty stores and restaurants, being a key contributor to this growth.

Attracting additional routes in Ireland

One obvious path to boosting revenue is increasing the number of flights and passengers.

Dublin Airport, the fastest growing airport in Europe in 2016, is a master at using creative incentives to attract airlines and increase routes per airline.

Thanks to technology-enabled flexible billing practices, the airport operator DAA has been able to create discounts and incentives needed to win new business, including growing the lucrative transatlantic transfer market.

For busy airports, running at near maximum capacity, the ability to incentivise uptake of off-peak slots and remote stands is highly effective at squeezing the most value possible from existing infrastructure.

High growth from down under

In a region of rising stars, Auckland Airport shines the brightest, with reported profit growth of 20.6% in 2016. Not only is Auckland’s aero revenue increasing in line with more flights and passengers, last year’s retail income growth of 19.3% is twice the rate of passenger growth.

Making sure the airport runs at optimal capacity has been key to managing Auckland’s explosive growth in passenger numbers.

In 2015, the airport made a major investment in operations technology – in particular, the use of data analytics. By sharing operational data across its airport partners, the airport has developed a more informed and collaborative environment, which has led to significant improvements in airfield and terminal operations, as well as on-time airline performance.

This move to Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM), allowed the airport to accommodate an 8.1% increase in international passengers, while simultaneously decreasing international departure processing time by 4.1% in 2016.

This gives the airport more operational “headroom” to manage the forecast double digit growth with confidence, without compromising on the customer experience.

A local perspective at Newark Airport

Working in a considerably more regulated environment than, for example, New Zealand, airports in the USA have been able to leverage their local government influence to reshape their approach.

At Newark Airport, for example, in an effort to move away from the same old ‘boring shops’ that have led to customer apathy, the Port Authority is working with local agencies to encourage and support small local businesses opening airport stores.

Tapping into a growing trend, Newark has also been looking at pop-up stores to better utilise smaller spaces, or to boost revenues during peak periods.

Like Auckland, Newark has placed a strong emphasis on optimising use of existing infrastructure. A great example is the recent project to extend the use of the airport’s Resource Management System to tackle a very inefficient belt allocation process.

Rather than relying on spreadsheets and a great deal of on-the-job skills, belts are now automatically allocated not only according to real-time flight information, but based on Newark’s business priorities, such as airline KPIs and proximity to arrival gate, with any conflicts automatically resolved.

The airport has saved hours of manual allocations and redeployments every day from this one process alone.

Unlocking the value of all airport data will reap further rewards

While these airports have taken a strategic approach to airport efficiency and revenue growth, they are well aware that more can be done. As airport business complexity increases, the challenge is unlocking the growing volumes of data that sit in disparate systems and silos around the airport.

Connecting concessionaire retail sales to flow, flight and operations information gives airports the ability to better match concessions with location. Retail stores can also tailor product offerings and promotions to match passenger profiles, increasing the likelihood of making sales.

Connected data can be used to guide day-to-day operational preferences, like allocating the most profitable flights to gates closer to shops. It can also be used to inform commercial decisions by highlighting the more profitable airlines to target for potential route expansion.

While the ability of airports to grow revenue and improve profitability is always challenging, it is by no means impossible.

By helping airports extract more value from existing resources, flexible billing and operations software boosts aero income and enhances bottom-line efficiencies, while enhanced customer experience leads to increased revenue.

Reducing queue wait time and setting up exciting retail concepts in the right locations with flow management tools and concession data analysis is the key to making this happen.

This is a viewpoint by Chris Warrington, general manager, airports, at Gentrack. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers or partners.

Image by Jeshua Sharkey

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