Airports modernising to fuel more shopping

- Christine Negroni, NEW YORK

Sep 6, 2018-

This summer, while traveling from New York to Denver, Marc Stewart noticed that the Delta Air Lines terminal at La Guardia Airport felt unfamiliar.

“Usually, I fly United, which means you are in the old concourse where there are not even enough bathrooms. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into Delta’s terminal at La Guardia and saw some innovative options,” said Stewart, 45, a television journalist. “As soon as you go past security, you see a food setup that’s reminiscent of Whole Foods. There’s a food bar, snacks beyond potato chips. It is a completely different feeling.”

What Stewart encountered is going on all over the world. Airport operators are updating aging terminals and constructing new ones, wooing travelers with retail and dining options that encourage them to spend more money. And they are spending as much as 30 percent more at some airports, according to OTG, the airport concessionaire that worked with Delta on the remodeled terminal that Stewart visited.

When revenue from airport amenities goes up, the fees airlines pay to use an airport can go down, which in turn can attract more airlines to offer service to the region.It is up to the airport “to be attractive to the customers: both the airline and the traveler,” said Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International, a trade group. By providing more services and better shopping, an airport can “keep their aeronautical charges down and entice airlines,” she said.

When it comes to commercial real estate, airports offer the two biggest factors linked to retail success: location and foot traffic. The average time a traveler waits at the airport is more than two hours, according to an article published by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Recognising this, airports large and small are redesigning their buildings and changing the products and services on offer, following the example set over the past two decades by airports in emerging markets.

Airports in Hong Kong, Beijing and Doha, Qatar, reset the standard with dazzling architecture, capacious restrooms, comfortable seating at the boarding gates and plenty of power outlets throughout the terminals. Skytrax, an aviation-ranking site based in Britain, has given Singapore’s Changi Airport the award for best airport six years running in part for its butterfly garden, movie theater, pool and two hotels. Its latest upgrade is the Changi Jewel, a 10-story hotel and entertainment complex, which opens to travelers next year.

“Our airports cannot compare in their present state to the major international airports in Europe or Asia,” said Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and New York Stewart International Airport in addition to La Guardia. “This country has allowed its infrastructure and its airports in particular to fall far below the global standard.”

In a 2014 speech now famous among airport executives, Joseph R. Biden Jr., then the vice president, suggested that La Guardia was like a “third world” airport. One year later, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced plans to direct $20 billion in redevelopment money to the area’s three largest airports.

When the overhaul of La Guardia’s Terminal B is complete, travelers will be able to see from the escalator “the dynamic environment of a commercial district, with a spa, food, well-curated retail and dining options,” according to Ed Baklor, chief commercial officer for La Guardia Gateway Partners, the private company working on the project with the Port Authority.

The project is the nation’s largest airport renovation programme, Cotton said. But there are other multibillion-dollar makeovers in the works at Los Angeles International Airport and in Chicago, at O’Hare International and Chicago Midway International airports.


Published: 06-09-2018 08:10

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