Navigating Commercial Hurdles at Small and Regional Airports (Part 1)

Trine Kildevaeld


July 3, 2024

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While large airports like New York’s JFK, Qatar’s Doha, Abu Dhabi in the UAE and Istanbul have ample resources to create stunning terminals that feature luxury shops, designer lounges, and gourmet restaurants, small and regional airports are restricted by lower passenger numbers and tight budgets.

As a result, creating a commercially viable terminal and delivering tailored shopping experiences that appeal to their passenger demographic, presents smaller airports with a different set of commercial challenges, five of which are listed below.

  • Route development can be challenging as airlines tend to focus operations on the region’s primary hub airports, leaving smaller gateways as ‘feeder airports’. This results in a reduced number of passengers and limits total commercial revenue. It also negatively affects the spend per passenger, as the offer is in direct competition with the hub airport, where passengers often expect to find a larger and more exciting commercial choice.
  • Despite having a limited number of passengers, the commercial area must still offer a minimum variety of retail, and food and beverage (F&B). This results in an unprofitable and inefficient ratio of commercial square meters per passenger with a relatively high operational expenditure. This, in turn, may increase the price of products offered and make shopping less attractive to passengers.
  • Staying relevant to the changing demands of passengers, by constantly modifying the commercial offer, is a challenge for even the best global airport operators. For small and regional airports, this situation is exacerbated due to a limited selection of international operators and concepts to choose from.
  • Small airports do not have the luxury of tendering multi-unit master concessions that larger international retailers could be interested in. They are often left to operate one contract per unit for a shorter period, which disrupts continuity, hinders long-term business development, is cost-ineffective, and generates lower revenue for the airport.
  • Globally, passenger demand for local F&B brands is high, and larger airports have included local chains and concepts by famous chefs in their commercial offers. Smaller local operators do not have the same purchasing power, financial capability, and operational efficiency. Local retailers and F&B operators can also find it difficult to adjust to the daily operational requirements of an airport, and their retail concept and overall design may not meet the expectations of globetrotting tourists. Additionally, it can become an HR challenge for small operators to remain open, particularly when there are staggered departures and arrivals throughout the day.
mod Kilsa chart revenue per pax

The disparity in critical metrics such as revenue per passenger (RPP) highlights the stark contrast between smaller and larger airports (see chart above). The root cause lies in the divergence of optimal space allocation, multi-unit contracts, the presence of international operators, and greater passenger volumes.

These advantages positively impact larger airports while smaller gateways suffer.

So how can smaller airports enhance their commercial revenue streams and make them more viable? In Part 2 of this article, we will explore the following seven solutions that, if handled well, can have a positive impact on the commercial business:

- Collaborate with the route development team

- Develop a unique identity suited for the destination

- Take inspiration from larger airports and scale it down

- Integrate a central and comfortable dwell seating area

- Look at expanding the airport’s landside offer

- Allocate temporary, rotating units for local operators

- When tendering, consider developing a ‘package’

Tune in next Wednesday 10th for more details…

[Trine Kildevaeld is the Founder and Managing Partner of KILSA Group, an experienced international consultancy offering solutions to the commercial opportunities and challenges faced by smaller airports. KILSA leverages global expertise and in-depth understanding to deliver solutions that ensure an exceptional passenger experience while maximizing profitability.]