Navigating Commercial Hurdles at Small and Regional Airports (Part 2)

Trine Kildevaeld


July 10, 2024

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© Comptoir Libanese, Funkadelis, Sezane, Freepick, Medium, Freetaset

Last week, in Part 1 of this article, we identified some of the main challenges faced by smaller airports in successfully optimizing their commercial revenue streams. Below are seven solutions to those issues, broken down into seven key actions that can have a positive impact on commercial revenue.

  • Collaborate with the route development team to establish strong partnerships with airlines, local hotels, and tourism organizations to promote the airport as a destination, and to boost passenger traffic. It is essential to understand the key passenger profiles before launching a new route. Unlike larger airports, where introducing a new destination doesn’t usually change the passenger profile much, at smaller airports, it can significantly impact it. Therefore, adjustments to the concept mix may be necessary to align the offer to the new profiles.
  • For a tourist destination, the airport can enhance its image by developing a unique identity suited for the destination. Incorporating traditional hues, materials, and design elements from the local area can extend the holiday spirit of travelers. This special passenger experience, lasting until the boarding time, allows retailers to capitalize on the vibe with exclusive products and offers. By creating an immersive and distinctive atmosphere, the airport will leave a lasting impression on its passengers, further enhancing the overall travel experience.
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Local downtown restaurant, Jamaica (left) and Surf Shop, California.


  • When it comes to terminal layout, take inspiration from larger airports but scale it down to fit the needs of the smaller gateway. Collaborate with architects and designers to create an optimized terminal layout that directs all passengers, in one single flow, to the commercial zone. Consider incorporating digital touchpoints and advertising sites at the earliest stages of terminal design, ensuring a modern and technologically advanced atmosphere.
  • Integrating a central and comfortable dwell seating area in the heart of the commercial zone allows passengers to unwind and get a better understanding of the retail and F&B offerings available. This creates an immersive and engaging airport experience which is especially sought out by Gen Z travelers, and in turn, provides retailers with the opportunity to interact with their potential customers.
  • Consider expanding the airport’s landside offer. While the airside area traditionally generates the highest revenue per square meter, smaller airports should consider developing their landside offer to include amenities such as supermarkets, fast-food outlets, and drive-thrus. By catering to the needs of the local community and providing convenient options for travelers, this approach has the potential to stimulate traffic to the terminal’s other retail offerings. It not only generates additional revenue possibilities but also creates a unique selling point for the small airport, setting it apart from other regional airports in the area.
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Spar supermarket at Gran Canaria Airport (left) and drive-thru McDonalds at Christchurch Airport.

© Aena,,

  • Allocate a temporary unit to local operators on a rotating short-term basis. This allows the airport to evaluate the profitability of a local concept and gives local operators an opportunity to understand the unique challenges and benefits of working within an airport environment. This setup enables the airport to showcase local businesses and provides travelers with a unique experience they can’t find elsewhere. The pop-up unit also allows the airport to gather feedback from both operators and customers, which can help in optimizing the overall retail offer.
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Examples of simple, cost-effective pop-up concepts.


  • When tendering, consider developing a ‘package’ that includes several units and offers a long-term contract with flexible payment conditions during the startup period. Small airports should actively promote this opportunity through trade press, conferences, and similar platforms, as international retailers may not initially express interest. By presenting a larger contract, the airport creates significantly higher revenue opportunities for potential operators while reducing the risk of failure. Additionally, longer contracts can help build strong tenant relationships while providing stability and consistency at the airport. Providing flexible payment conditions can be a game-changer for airport tenants in the start-up phase when cash flow can be challenging. Moreover, this investment can lead to higher revenue for the airport in the long run as these retailers are more likely to succeed.

[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.]