Sangster International Airport (SIA) in Jamaica’s Montego Bay expects 2023 passenger traffic to grow around +5% above the 4.7 million served in 2019, according to MBJ Airports Limited Chief Executive Officer Shane Munroe.
Speaking to TRBusiness during a recent visit to the airport that coincided with the official inauguration of the first Appleton Estate Rum boutique, a collaboration between Campari Group, Dufry and the airport operator, Munroe confirmed positive indicators for the airport’s duty free, travel retail and F&B activities.
“We are already seeing a stronger performance from the commercial programme than pre-Covid,” commented Munroe, who took the helm at MBJ as the pandemic took hold. “Spend per head is higher and generally the offer is better than before, so we’re already ahead but with the traffic return we expect that to continue.”
TRBusiness broke the news of Dufry’s victory in the SIA duty free and speciality retail tender in 2020 following the issuance of an RFP the year prior covering a tranche of concession packages.
Then, the travel retailer added new stores to the main duty free contract it already held, while three further duty free shops (two jewellery units and a tobacco & wines & spirits store) were awarded to and run by other vendors.
Alongside the shops trading through its World Duty Free fascia, Dufry also manages convenience and speciality retail concepts in the main central area, in addition to the east and west piers.
Building route connectivity
On SIA’s partnership with Dufry, Munroe continued: “Dufry has been a very important partner for us, one of the biggest success stories in terms of our commercial programme. The partnership is strong. We did the RFP during the Covid pandemic and it was very hard to negotiate terms when everybody else was closing down.
“[Dufry] believed in the programme and saw what we wanted to achieve. These plans were done during the pandemic and they were fully committed to and invested in Montego Bay. Going forward, we see nothing but success and this partnership growing.”
SIA’s current nationality mix is dominated by those from the US, Canada, UK and the Caribbean, and Munroe doesn’t see too much changing in the future profile.
“The Canadian market is very important for us… the US and UK market as well. We want those to grow and continue to have direct connections. Coming out of Covid, we realised our passengers tend to want to have direct connections, or no more than one, so building non-stop routes is very important for us. We have been able to do that from the Canadian market.
“One of the good things that has happened is the US market has recovered very strongly and we are launching new routes. We have new destinations, recently adding flights to Denver, St Louis, Chicago Midway… so there’s very good connectivity and we’re also working on additional airlines in other regions in Latin and South America and Europe.
“The goal for us is diversifying the mix and that’s where we think we’ll see the growth. Europe will recover in its own time, so we’re pretty optimistic about the future and our Jamaica brand is strong.
“Almost every carrier flies to Montego Bay. That builds resilience and that’s a big feature of what we are planning moving forward. That means more routes, markets and airlines to partner with us.”
MBJ Airports Limited and Airports Authority of Jamaica in the company of the Minister of Transport & Mining Audley Shaw (representing PM Andrew Holness) officially unveiled SIA’s new-look departures expansion in mid-December following several years of planning.
The 4,000sq m departures area features Dufry’s 1,300sq m walkthrough duty free store and approximately 86 outlets pledging local and international offerings.
Speaking to TRBusiness about the thinking behind the redeveloped central commercial area, Sharon Hislop-Holt, Manager, Commercial Business Development & Marketing, says MBJ had a number of goals in mind when uprating the commercial journey for passengers.
This included creating more space for passengers to encourage dwell time in the retail areas.
“We wanted to create some standardisation in terms of signage but keep the uniqueness, with experiences within the shops that showcase Jamaica,” she explained. “The opening of the Appleton Boutique tops that off as it’s synonymous with Jamaica.
“Having the first Appleton Boutique here in the world… it’s definitely something we are very proud of here at MBJ, but also the other stores such as the Tuff Gong store synonymous with Bob Marley. There is a replica [model] in there for passengers to take photos, items such as books, CDs and so on.”
Arrivals will be future retail focus
Hislop-Holt says the shops that make up the upgraded commercial area have been taken to a new level, due in no small part to the operator’s collaboration with Pragma and The Design Solution, instrumental in offering expertise across space and category planning, design, commercial strategy and the redeveloped retail programme.
The changes play out through several noticeable cues; from characterful shop signage to wider storefronts in the central commercial area.
The reimagined design blends architectural nous through clever natural lighting, increased circulation and seating space with a retail offer boasting well-selected concessions that major on sense of place to uplift the experience for departing travellers.
Elsewhere, 32 Margaritaville-operated Express Catering outlets occupy a presence across the arrivals and departures areas, from well-known favourites like Wendy’s, Domino’s and Starbucks to the first-ever Bob Marley ‘One Love’ restaurant featuring at Sangster International Airport in the newly developed food court.
“When passengers are here, they should feel like they are at any international airport, but what differentiates us is that unique Jamaican experience, whether they are tasting Appleton at the Appleton [boutique] bar or going into Tuff Gong and taking a photo with Bob Marley,” enthused Hislop-Holt.
“Having worked with all the concessionaires from the time of the tender to this point with just a few stores [left] to open, we are happy with the progress made not just in terms of them opening but the level of service they can now provide. The passenger experience has definitely increased since the opening of this new retail area.”
The arrivals duty free section operated by Dufry is also performing well. Figures for January and February were trending upwards in traffic and commercial revenue terms versus the same months in 2019.
TRBusiness understands that the arrivals business today accounts for 15% of Dufry’s trading at SIA, versus 1% in 2017.
Elsewhere, commercial renovations are in the frame with regards to several concessions, including a Hudson convenience unit, souvenir, fragrance and technology stores, plus a last-minute Dufry shop.
“We’ve got the departures retail area to the level which we want, so what we are going to do now is to work on the operational areas: check-in and security. We are almost close to 2019 [passenger] traffic, so we need to now expand the hall to accommodate the number of passengers we have coming through our airport, commented Hislop-Holt.
Commenting on the departures expansion programme, she added: “In a year or so, we will have something opened up for some concessions in the departure area and then we will move to expanding the arrivals area.”
As reported, TRBusiness was on location in Jamaica earlier this year for the global launch of the first Appleton Estate Rum boutique at SIA.
The launch of the boutique inside Dufry’s main departures store gathered officials from the airport, retailer, brand and selected trade media, including TRBusiness, who heard from various stakeholders about Appleton Estate Rum’s significance as a major Jamaican export and the collaboration efforts that brought the 80sq m boutique concept to life.
Marco Cavagnera, Managing Director, Global Strategic Travel Retail, Campari Group said at the time: “This year we are forecasting to get over pre-pandemic levels and [the opening] is a milestone for GTR and within Campari Group as we are here to celebrate the biggest investment ever in the channel.
“We believe the rum category has the potential to premiumise and play a key role in GTR and there is a conviction that Appleton Estate can play a key role in this premiumisation journey; it has all the credentials to do that, being an historic brand. Sense of place is why we are opening this boutique here in Jamaica, 50km away from where Appleton Estate is located.
“So, it’s a way to convey to travellers and consumers not just a unique experience but a very authentic experience. We are very grateful to Dufry for giving us the opportunity to open this store and placing trust in us.”
Praising all parties in bringing the boutique concept to fruition, Enrique Urioste, President and CEO, Latin America, Dufry Group, said: “We, together with the airport authorities, recognise the potential of this airport and the need to have a store like this.
“And a store like this in Jamaica couldn’t exist without a boutique like Appleton. We are convinced this is the beginning of a very long and successful journey, not only at this airport but at many other locations for Campari.”
MBJ Airports operates SIA under a 30-year concession awarded in 2003.