IN FOCUS: Top 10 International Airports

By Luke Barras-hill |

Operators have witnessed spend per passenger increases across the terminals, as the world’s top 10 international airports handled 207.5 million international passengers in 2021.

Airport commercial leaders have shared their candid appraisals on the current recovery trajectory across air transport and how that is shaping the fortunes of their respective retail businesses.

Click below to read interviews and commentary drawing on earnings statements and other financial indices for each of the Top 10 International Airports contained within the TRBusiness June/July e-zine.

Amid a stop-start 2021 for travel characterised by continued border and travel restrictions in some countries and the emergence of new  variants such as Omicron, collectively the top 10 handled 207.5 million international passengers.

Estimated global passenger traffic neared 4.5 billion, according to ACI World preliminary data released earlier this year.

The international airports ranking was used to inform the 38-page report, which carries robust appraisals from decision makers on the headwinds and tailwinds influencing commercial performances across the terminals.

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More than 10.2 billion air travellers were removed in the first two years of the crisis, according to ACI World data, and the short- to medium-term picture for airports and their retail partners remains opaque.

However, sources spoken to for this report point to a buoyancy as operations restore and pent-up travel and spending is unleashed.

Speaking to TRBusiness in a profile for table-topper Dubai International Airport (DXB), Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO at Dubai Duty Free (DDF), said: “Dubai Duty Free returned to profitability in early January 2021.

“We continued to invest and progress with brands on their activities throughout the pandemic, and now that passenger numbers are coming back, we are seeing the benefits of this in terms of revenue, and spending remains elevated. Spend per head reached a high of $53, beating 2019’s pre-pandemic return of $39.

“While spend per head has levelled to around $48, penetration levels over the past 12 months have been 30% higher than 2019. This is due to a number of factors including pent-up shopping demand by those travelling for the first time since the pandemic, and also because of the development of the retail offer in fashion and other areas.”

As reported, DDF has exceeded 50% of its $1.4 billion sales forecast this year after posting $720 million in sales (+10.45% yoy) between 01 January to 17 June 2022.

For ninth-placed Madrid Airport (MAD), duty free sales have surged to around 90% of 2019 levels, confirmed operator Aena, which is scaling up plans for its high-profile duty free tender later this year.

More luxury brands are set to feature at Istanbul Airport as it looks to add 4,500sq m to the Luxury Square and Luxury Hill commercial areas. 

“Overall in duty free, spend per passenger is growing a lot; more than 40% for some nationalities,” said María José Cuenda, Managing Director Commercial and Real Estate at Aena.

“Penetration in F&B is the best category now, but other categories – comparing like for like with traffic (growth) in 2019 – are running well.”

Meanwhile, fourth-ranked Frankfurt Airport (FRA), which amassed €72m/$85m in retail revenue in 2021 as total turnover jumped 35% versus 2020, is enjoying rebounding passenger traffic.

Updating this publication, Nina Kristin Gür, Vice President, Retail Key Account Management for Fraport AG, said: “Traffic is luckily catching up strongly. We are still missing higher volumes of Chinese passengers, but I suppose we are in the same boat as all major hubs in Europe.”

Five of the top 10 busiest airports worldwide for international passengers are located in Europe. Source ACI World.

The return of business travel at the airport has exceeded expectations and airlines are acting accordingly by adding more destinations to their networks, says Gür.

However, the Europe-wide challenge relating to staff shortages is also being felt across Frankfurt Airport’s operations including in its retail segment.

“European hubs are suffering from a lack of staff in all areas, and this is also the case for Frankfurt,” confirmed Gür. “A lot of the airlines have actively cancelled flights to avoid chaos at the airport… this affects our retail and F&B business of course.”

Main image: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol ranked third globally in 2021 among the top 10 busiest international airports, according to ACI World data, defending its 2019 pre-Covid ranking in the process. Source AMS.

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