Federal funds boost US airports; Summit preview

By Luke Barras-hill |

FLL has received a $50m FAA-administered grant, which will contribute towards the Terminal Connectors project and modifications to the airport’s existing terminals, including more retail concessions. Source: Broward County Aviation Department.

The International Association of Airport and Duty Free Stores (IAADFS) has highlighted the positive domino effect on duty free following a White House decision to channel almost $1 billion in federal funding into infrastructure upgrades at US airports.

Last month, the Biden-Harris administration authorised a capital injection of $970 million, delivered through Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded grants, to 114 airports, spanning 44 states and three territories under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Airport Terminal Program*.

The big winners include Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International ($50m), Chicago O’Hare International ($40m), Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Washington Dulles ($35m), Los Angeles International ($31m), Denver International ($26.6m) and a number of others, according to a FAA document seen by TRBusiness.

In the case of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), a portion of the funding will be allocated to creating additional retail space.

“While not directly targeted towards our business, we are going to benefit from this because a lot of the airports need the upgrades to expand facilities,” IAADFS President and CEO Michael Payne told TRBusiness in a video interview. “It is a separate pot, but it’s trying to build the business back by helping to develop airport infrastructure in the Americas.”

As part of several current advocacy focuses, a key a priority for the association is ensuring airport concessionaires can continue to apply for and access rent and MAG relief via the $1 billion funding package delivered in the wake of the pandemic.

As reported, Congress passed a bill in early 2021 unlocking an additional $8 billion in support for airports, including $800m in grant aid administered by the FAA for the above purposes, targeted specifically at concessionaires.

Exhibition nearing capacity

This added to the $200m supplemented by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed into law in December 2020, as part of a wider $2 billion package for eligible airports.

The CARES Act pledged $10bn in capital grant funding to a wave of US airports to help offset revenue plummeting revenues, operational expenses and assist in debt servicing.

During a wide-ranging conversation with this publication, Payne offered his thoughts on next month’s Summit of the Americas, which returns to the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on 14-17 April.

Correct at the time of writing, 72 exhibitors are confirmed at this year’s summit, including a healthy mix of returning and new exhibitors, with work ongoing to confirm others.

According to the exhibition plan, there are a handful of 10′ x 10′ 100sq ft booths remaining across the circa 26,000 net square feet of exhibition space (including booths in the foyer and private rooms outside of the exhibit hall) and the association continues to receive interest in these, TRBusiness has learned.

Summit debutants include A21 Wine & Spirits, Apex Spirits, Axfind Limited, Beekman 1802, Cacaye Fermented Beauty, Cigtrus – EzFly, Denizen Destination, Distribution Spirits Company, Domaines Paul Mas, GN Tobacco Sweden, Hot Girls Pearls, Icone Brands, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers/Willett Distillery, Meukow Cognac, Moonglow, Organic Tagua Jewelry, Radico Khaitan, Tequila Mixology and Terroirs Distillers Artisanal Brands.

TRBusiness spoke to Michael Payne, President and CEO of IAADFS, ahead of the 2024 Summit of the Americas. Watch out for the TRBusiness March/April e-zine to view the exchange in full.

Bacardi Global Travel Retail, Diageo, Imperial Brands, Monarq Group, Nestlé, Pernod Ricard, Proximo Spirits and Wonderful Pistachios are among a number of returning faces.

Payne says the exhibit hall is virtually sold out, with a couple of companies still pending.

“We are near the level we had last year – minus a couple of 10×10 boots – but the exhibitors look really good, the meeting rooms are full, we have most of the big brands back and participating. We’ll be around the maximum [level] for the exhibit hall.”

Last year, the Summit attracted 1,178 visitors – a 34% jump year-on-year owing to the post-Covid surge in attendees. Buyers accounted for around a third of that share – a 45% jump on 2022.

Registrations are “tracking well” against 2023 numbers six weeks out from the event, confirms IAADFS, and the expectation from the association is that registrations will match or exceed that of 2023.

“The numbers look really strong in terms of registration, but we’ll have a much bigger hit on site,” said Payne. “We are right on track with where we were last year, again depending on those onsite. The buyer numbers are really good; we had just over 380 buyers last year and I know this year we have a large contingent from Avolta/Dufry, they’ve got 35-37 buyers here and other companies have good delegations as well. I’m excited about that. Everything looks pretty strong.”

The split of exhibitors by category is strongly tilted towards wines & spirits brands and suppliers, in addition to some confectionery and tobacco firms.

On the other hand, a lack of representation from the perfumes & cosmetics and beauty segment is noticeable, as has been the case in recent years.

IAADFS acknowledges that the level of investment in large scale booths and private meeting spaces seen historically is likely a thing of the past, particularly in the case of regional events [this is, of course, just one among a number of other factors that have more broadly affected the exhibitions sector globally in recent years, including rising costs associated with business travel, on-site provision, and the move towards increased circularity and sustainability when it comes to exhibitor stands – Ed].

The association says it is involved in active conversations with the beauty houses and suggests there may be visiting companies from the sector this year.

Following an opening cocktail on Sunday 14 April, the Summit conference will kick off with the opening plenary on the morning of Monday 15 April, with an extra workshop centring on the cruise sector slated for the afternoon of Tuesday 16 April.

“That will probably be the extend of the content programme this year,” commented Payne. “Our commitment is still to focus on educational learning and have it become an increasingly important part of the show. I think we had a few too many sessions the year before last, with two big plenary sessions and workshops.

“This year, we decided to confine it to a smaller number of content-driven sessions, in part due to feedback from exhibitors. Going into this year, we thought it made sense to try to narrow it down a bit, make it impactful and meaningful and address more of the networking time. I’m confident and know there is a way going forward of accomplishing both and you’ll see more of that in the future.”

What can delegates expect?

The exhibition hall and meeting rooms will welcome delegates on Monday  15 April (10:00 – 18:30), Tuesday  16 April (09:00 – 18:00) and Wednesday 17 April (09:00 – 13:00).

In addition to the opening cocktail, delegates can enjoy a networking cocktail on Monday and Tuesday evenings (18:30 – 20:00).

Payne commented: “We’ll have some more networking opportunities, a luncheon on Tuesday to get people together… I think there’s a good vibe and we’re feeling good about it.”

Asked what would represent a successful outcome for this year’s Summit, Payne confirmed he wouldn’t be disappointed with a similar showing in actual numbers versus 2023.

The Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida will stage the Summit of the Americas for a third time. Source: PBconventioncenter.com.

“I’d be thrilled with a marginal increase from last year,” he responded, adding that industry consolidation at times has a mitigating impact on the numbers, in addition to the timings of other events in the area.

“We always want to strive to increase the numbers where we can, though there is not an unlimited amount of growth in the exhibition space,” he said.

It is worth noting that in recent years the exhibition area now includes a lounge for meetings, networking and relaxation, with IAADFS not ruling out entirely the possibility of using that space creatively to accommodate extra booths, should demand dictate.

“We don’t want to compromise that space so much that we don’t have an effective place for people to visit,” he stated. “We could take some of that space and convert it into booths, but at some point you lose the value of having a networking area. We are trying to figure out a way of making that better.

“My real focus would be to increase the buyer numbers,” added Payne. “We hope to get more of the Caribbean and Central American buyers back. The tide turned a little bit on that last year. A good outcome would be meeting what we did last year; a better outcome would be some marginal percentage increase.”

Addressing the buyer share specifically – as mentioned, this accounted for approximately one third of the circa 1,200 visitors at last year’s summit – Payne acknowledged that a one third/two thirds buyer – visitor balance would represent an optimal outcome.

Encouragingly, IAADFS tells TRBusiness that the current buyer registration level is tracking ahead of 2023 by +7%.

“I’d love to see a tick-up in buyers; we got close to 400 last year, so we’ll see,” commented Payne. “We’ve also expanded the base a bit over the years in terms of our outreach and are not so purely focused on the airport duty free world, which has historically been what we’ve done, so it’s a much broader net that has been cast.”

* A total of $5 billion allocated ($1 billion annually from 2022-2026). To view the full list of airports awarded federal funds, click here.

Watch out for the TRBusiness March/April for the full video interview with IAADFS President and CEO Michael Payne. You can also collect your print copy of the edition from the press racks in the exhibition hall.

READ MORE: Starboard CS chief Lisa Bauer gains seat on IAADFS Board of Directors

READ MORE: Summit of the Americas opens for registration and accommodation

Lead image credit: Shackleford Photography/Shutterstock

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