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Spirit of recovery


The Design Solution’s Robbie Gill considers some of the challenges facing Europe’s regional airports when it comes to enhancing their retail/F&B offerings.

Despite the unprecedented and continuing pressures imposed on non-aviation revenues by the COVID crisis, a number of Europe’s regional airports are developing a stronger position to drive their revenue recovery path, particularly among those that are managing to continue with at least some of their pre-COVID planned investment programmes across their commercial spaces.

Larnaca Airport (LCA) in Cyprus, for example, has achieved the most comprehensive terminal transformation seen at a European airport during the pandemic, with a 20 million project to redesign the commercial areas, reaching across over 6,000sqm with 22 upgraded retail and F&B concepts.

In re-modernising the customer experience, LCA placed huge emphasis on Cypriot culture and the spirit of the island, with the central focus on the locally-themed Kypriaka store celebrating Cypriot food, crafts and culture, including cheese, wines and spirits, pottery, lacemaking and jewellery.   

This strategy is especially effective as the product offer is not only carefully selected to provide quality and authentic expressions of the island, it is also balanced to address the needs of both local and tourist traffic.

Importantly, these local themes endure, providing a stable and effective long-term platform for the customer experience. The airport also developed its commercial planning strategy by re-routing the passenger journey through the retail space to create a huge increase in passengers’ exposure to the offer.

Larnaca’s strategy of localisation of the customer experience is the key tactic for regional airports to adopt in driving recovery. While LCA’s large-scale project was obviously planned (and budgeted) pre-COVID, the injection of local elements into the offer (especially in food but also in F&B menus) can be adopted as a relatively low cost commitment that can instantly inject new life into the customer experience and create differentiation for the airport.

On a smaller but still effective scale, Bristol Airport (BRS) in the UK is urgently gearing up for the summer with a £2.6 million investment to enhance the airport’s shopping and dining offer, injecting newness to help engage the customer.

Tom Hack, BRS’ head of commercial, explained: “This is an exciting project and opportunity for Bristol Airport and its customer facilities.

“We are very confident that the investment and redevelopment in our departure lounge will provide a greater passenger experience as we offer new places to shop, eat, drink and relax before you fly.”

The ‘Sense of Place’ strategy has, of course, become well established over the past decade, led by airports such as Nice, Porto, Malta, Munich and Toulouse.

The input of retail and F&B partners is crucial in creating a stronger experience to attract the returning traveller, and retail leaders Dufry and Heinemann have been especially active in developing new retail concepts to revitalise the airport shopping experience at a number of Europe’s regional airports.

At Heinemann, this includes closer blending of the retail and F&B elements through smartseller, a joint venture between the retailer and catering specialist Casualfood.

Karl Niendorf, managing director of smartseller, outlined the strategy: “The concept evolves travel retail spaces from rigid, category-centred assortments into four needs-oriented zones, creating smooth and intuitive transitions between themes, products and services.

“The boundaries between duty free, F&B and convenience shops have disappeared.”

The first full expression of this integrative retail space was recently launched at Ljubljana Airport, with smaller pilot projects at Münster/Osnabrück and Leipzig airports.

As Europe enters the third year of its COVID crisis and (hopefully) travellers return to the skies this summer, passengers face disruption and a changed airport journey that will reduce their propensity to shop.

Additionally, while they’ve been away from the terminals, domestic retail behaviour has evolved radically in a surge to online shopping, making in-store conversion even harder.

Europe’s airports face a huge challenge  to re-ignite their non-aeronautical revenue, but, across the region, creative responses are showing how it might be done.

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