Gatwick CCO on new openings & upcoming tenders

By Faye Bartle |

Gatwick's Jonathan Pollard x WH Smith curi.o.city

Left: WH Smith’s new curi.o.city store at Gatwick. Right: Jonathan Pollard, Chief Commercial Officer, at Gatwick Airport.

TRBusiness caught up with Jonathan Pollard, Chief Commercial Officer at Gatwick Airport for the opening of the new WH Smith curi.o.city stores at the hub on 29 March to find out more about the concept and how it plugs a gap for stand-alone premium gifting.

Plus, Pollard talks us through some of the airport’s wider retail news and developments, from navigating the pandemic and the ‘Brexit effect’ to new summer openings and upcoming tenders…

TRBusiness: Tell us about the importance of the new WHSmith curi.o.city store concept opening?

Jonathan Pollard: We’re absolutely thrilled and delighted. It’s a very unique concept. We were very keen to launch a world first. We have been very keen on our concept and have been discussing it for several months and the reason we’ve been keen is that it just gives something that people can’t access elsewhere easily. Premium merchandise, a fantastic collection of things that we know our passengers will love and any passenger that sees it we have confidence that they’ll recognise that it looks very different to anything else they can get elsewhere.

Curi.o.city

Pictured left to right at the curi.o.city store opening on 29 March 2023: WHSmith Store Manager Moshud Ali; WHSmith Format Development Director Zahra Coggins; WHSmith Business Development Director Spencer Sheen; Gatwick Airport Business Development Retail and Specialist Stores Danielle Wilder; Gatwick Airport Lead – Retail New Business Helen Teschauer; WHSmith Managing Director Andrew Harrison; Gatwick Airport Chief Commercial Officer Jonathan Pollard; Gatwick Airport Retail Director Rachel Bulford; WHSmith Buying Manager Clare Morant; WHSmith Sales Assistant Angela; WHSmith Deputy Store Manager Solveiga Maiziesiute; and Gatwick Airport PA to Chief Commercial Officer Kate Pashley.

What value to passengers does the curi.o.city brand concept deliver as a jigsaw piece within the evolving Gatwick commercial proposition?
So the one area that we recognise we had a gap [for] was premium gifting. We have opportunities for people to buy merchandise, premium gifts in selected stores across the airport, but some research that we commissioned early last year gave us the confidence that passengers were looking for a stand-alone store that was full of premium merchandise. There were also things that people couldn’t easily get elsewhere. That is the gap that we feel this offer will now fill.

Total net retail income at Gatwick increased by more than 300% in the 12 months ending 31 December 2022 year-on-year, but remains short of the £193.5m haul in 2019. Do you expect to reach or even exceed that level in 2023?
That’s certainly the objective and the main cause of the gap that we saw last year was that traffic was not fully back to 2019 levels. We had not all of the retail offer open and indeed some of those units that were open weren’t back to their full capacity. So we are expecting all of our retail estate to be opened up across 2023 to have the right level of resourcing in place so that they can operate at full capacity and we’re fully focused on making sure that where we have opportunities to broaden the choice offer we will take those.

WH Smith curi.o.city

WH Smith’s curi.o.city store at Gatwick offers travelling shoppers something they can’t easily access elsewhere, says the hub’s CCO Jonathan Pollard.

Gatwick served 32.8m passengers in 2022 (70.4% of pre-pandemic levels) but while short haul routes have recovered strongly, long haul connectivity recovery is taking a little longer. How do you expect these dynamics to influence the passenger mix and ultimately travel spending this year?
Actually, on long haul, whilst we are still lagging behind 2019 we are making very good progress on introducing new long haul carriers. Air India started three days ago for four destinations in India. We have Delta starting next week. We have Saudia starting in June. We’ve got over 47 long haul destinations available from Gatwick so we’re making very good progress back towards 2019 levels. Our estimate is that certainly by 2024 we will have a more typical representation of mix and spend at Gatwick.

The Brexit effect continues to make headlines and EU-bound travellers from the UK can now benefit from greater allowances (16 litres of beer; 200 cigarettes). What is Gatwick doing to actively promote these benefits?
We work very closely with Dufry, our duty free operator, to amplify some of the benefits that passengers can now avail of, as you say, significantly reduced prices on liquor and tobacco. And so we work on in-store promotions in terms of marketing material. We have been working with them on how the unit is ranged in terms of how much space is allocated to those categories. We’re already seeing in the data that passengers appear to be reasonably well aware of those benefits but there is certainly still a proportion of people that we will be targeting that aren’t aware currently.

How big an impact are you seeing on overall spending as a result of the duty free ‘Brexit effect’ on travellers spending?
The exact impact is still quite difficult to see because there have been quite a few factors influencing spend, particularly in the duty free world over the last 12 months so there were global issues with stock availability, and some resourcing challenges that have meant that we haven’t had an extended period where you can see exactly the net spend. But we are seeing significantly increased sales volumes in the liquor and tobacco segments so UK outbound passengers are taking advantage of lower prices.

Gatwick's South Terminal departure lounge.

Gatwick’s South Terminal departures.

Net retail income per passenger was down to £4.77 in 2022 against 32.8m passengers versus 2021 (£6.06) but lifted versus 2019 (£4.19) at 46.6m passengers. What do you put the 2022 result down to?
The improvements versus 2019 reflects some of the price increases due to inflation, but also we’re starting to see the benefits come through on some of the new offers that we’ve been opening up. I think the quirk in terms of 2021 (£6.06) was that we’ve just had a very disproportionate mix of passengers. In 2021 we only had 6.2m people and a lot of those were not a fully representative mix of passengers. We had 6.2m people that were predominantly leisure travellers that have a higher typical spend. So that’s what would have inflated the 2021 number, 2022 versus 2019 is predominantly inflation but also some of the improvements in the offer we delivered.

What can we expect to see from Gatwick in the coming months as we enter the summer with regards to new retail shop openings?
We’ve got some really exciting food and beverage offers so we have The Breakfast Club, we have Vagabond and some more artisan local offers such as Black Sheep Coffee and we have a very exciting craft beer offer due to open later this year and the brand will be revealed very shortly.

Do you have any retail/commercial tenders, requests for proposals in the pipeline and if so can you share more detail around the timings?
We have quite a few tender opportunities likely to come up over the next 12 to 24 months across a range of food and beverage and retail fashion outlets. I am personally placing quite a strong focus on seeking innovation and airport firsts and I want Gatwick to become an airport that is renowned for airport firsts and uniqueness.

And lastly on foreign travellers not being able to get VAT refunds. What are your thoughts on that and has this affected things yet?
On that one we’ve not seen the true impact. We have some reservations that it might have a negative impact that we’ve not yet seen anything that’s clear enough. One thing I would say as a general point is there’s still quite a lot of noise in the figures when we look back over the last twelve years and now we’re in this phase of a clearer recovery some of these items will be easier to establish what their actual impact has been.

Report by Ian Hill.

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