Showing posts with label GMR Group. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GMR Group. Show all posts

23 October, 2016

UDAN - a A Flight for Retailers

If the Modi Government has its way, it will make the real common man to fly. No kidding. With it's ambitious UDAN - Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (Let the common man fly) which is a rehash of the regional air connectivity proposed by the UPA Governments but with a lot more incentives to Airlines and of course flyers. The fare for a one hour flight is capped at Rs. 2,500 adjusted to inflation. Whether the one hour is block time or flying time is yet to be clarified. And many other things too. If technical details about UDAN interest you, read this column written by The Flying Engineer here.

India has over 450 airstrips/airports that were developed and built during the WW 1 & WW 2 by the British for strategic purposes. How many of you may know, unless you are from surrounding areas that we have airports in most obscure locations that one would have never thought of, such as Vellore and Salem (Tamil Nadu), Kadappa (Andhra), Gubarga (Karnataka), Raxaul & Muzaffarpur (Bihar) and so on. Most of these lay defunct with AAI not having funds to develop them or Airlines ready to ply there for various reasons. Such airports also include the ones at Pondicherry and Mysore, just to name two of them, which are very interesting tourist places but are not really well served. When local politicians announce their charter for upcoming elections, there is a mention of developing a local airport but the idea dies down after the man (or woman) occupies the high seat. Due to this, many thousands of people are forced to undertake alternate routes for travel by road and rail which are cumbersome and times taking as well. 


The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), which represents IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and GoAir, has written to the Union Civil Aviation Ministry terming the proposed regional connectivity levy as “illegal” and “in contravention to the Constitution of India.” It said the government is not empowered to levy a tax on airlines to fund the regional connectivity scheme under the Aircraft Act of 1934, quotes The Hindu. And their grouse is understandable. The Civil Aviation Ministry's guidelines already includes flying to certain far-off destinations across the country including the North East which doesn't attract flight loads and hence dampens the revenue prospects for the airlines. 

Given the scenario, as a former Airport Official and a Retailer, here is my recipe for a resounding success to this ambitious plan. Commercial Revenues can significantly reduce the burden on the Ministry as well as the Airlines, if they were allowed to be rightfully exploited. Worldwide, even the top airports such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and Frankfurt boast more than a fourth of their revenues coming from non-aero revenues. This has been, mostly a well-planned strategy executed over the past 4 decades by these airports, given the opportunity to derive non-aero incomes, especially from the millions of passengers who fly everyday across the world.

It is common knowledge that the Terminal Building in a small airport such as Salem which would have probably two flights a day will mostly remain unused all day (and night) whilst occupying thousands of acres of land. One of the best ways to put to use the idle areas is by constructing relevant retail areas in these locations. Sounds weird? Let me explain.


Continuing the example of Salem, it is a prosperous city with the Salem Steel Plant employing thousands and also being a business hub due to its native industries in apparel manufacturing and of course agriculture. People here have the money and aspirations to fly, travel the country and the world. But in most cases, they have to visit Chennai to take a flight forward. While Coimbatore is closer, it doesn't operate flights to all parts of the world or even connect important hubs within India. It is also important to note that cities like Salem do not have a so called popular Mall with domestic and international Retailers, although there is quite a bit of shopping and dining that happens all over the city. Therefore, by commercialising the landslide (the city side) areas of this airport and allowing private partners to Build-Operate-Transfer the assets to the Government, it would probably be a double whammy. The biggest issue with airports today worldwide is the safety and security factors. But this would be well taken care because the commercial areas would be located in the landside and visitors (to the Mall) will have no access to the terminal building and beyond. Only passengers with valid boarding documents would be allowed inside the Terminal Building. 

At the same time, the Restaurants at the roof top of these buildings will provide a massive view of the runway and the city as well as the parked aircraft which is always a delight to watch. A part of the vacant land may also be used to build budget hotels, thus ensuring a 365 day use of the asset. 

While the idea sounds cool, the biggest issue here is execution. AAI runs most of the airports in India including Chennai and Kolkata and currently only four airports at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi have been privatised. It is to be noted that these four airports contribute over 75% of the air-traffic in India and also act as hubs for international travel. Much has been written, discussed and debated about the perils of privatisation of Airports over the past decade. And the Government may take the best of what has been done in since 2006 regarding airport privatisation and perhaps move on. Alternately, the airport may continue to build and maintain the Terminal building, the Runway, the ATC Tower and other technical facilities while the other areas are handed over to private operators.


Overall, Retailers have a great opportunity to grab this opportunity. India's largest cafe chain Cafe Coffee Day put up its first cafe at HAL Airport at Bangalore in the late 90's and continues its focus in the airports and has a major presence all over the country. Many other retailers can take a cue out of this and explore other retail opportunities. Chennai Airport is out with its upcoming Retail Tender, details of which can be accessed here.

I hope to see Retailers take advantage of this sky-high (pun intended) opportunity and also be a part of this upcoming growth opportunity. 

14 October, 2011

Airports, A/c and Retail Opportunities

 

I came across an article recently on Times of India according to which Airports Authority of India (AAI) plans to turn-off air-conditioning in certain parts of the airports to reduce its expenses. “Our model for low-cost airports is based on a good low-cost carrier where people will get good, cost-efficient services. AC is the single biggest cost factor in airports. We are examining models to cut down the need for air-conditioning in the tier III airports that will come up,” said a senior official of AAI. Hubli in Karnataka will prove to be the first test case for this new phenomenon. The AAI is building an airport in Hubli for which the terminal cost has been pegged at Rs 60 crore (USD 13 Million). “We are going to further reduce this cost by shunning the fancy and shining tiles used for flooring and are looking at more areas for economy without compromising the efficiency and comfort level for flyers,” said sources. There is an increasing clamour among airlines, many of whom are struggling to survive and unable to pay hefty fees that the fancy new airports levy. Their logic: have economic airports with low charges so that flying remains affordable as high charges for ‘Taj Mahal’ kind of airports would have to be recovered in the form of higher fares from passengers.

(Suggested Reading: Airline guidelines – a boon to Retailers)

Another recent article in The Economic Times illustrates the financial performance of GMR Airports, the company that has built and manages two of the top 6 airports in India at Delhi and Hyderabad. Incidentally, Hyderabad Airport is the Number 1 among its peers according to the latest ACI Survey which grades airports across the world on passenger amenities and services. And yes, GMR neither switches off nor plans to switch of A/c. Their opportunity – non-Aeronautical Revenues which includes Retail and F&B options at the airport premises. World over, non-Aeronautical revenues account 30-50% of an airport’s revenues. Of this, Retail/F&B contributes significantly, over 70% in some cases closely followed by “Car Parking Revenues”.

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In India, the focus on Non-Aero income has hardly been given importance by AAI, the erstwhile operator of the top airports in India (located at Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad which are now privatised). In the year 2006, Airport privatisation was formally passed on a Private-Public Partnership model (PPP) and Delhi, Mumbai airports were handed over by AAI to two private parties, viz., GMR and GVK to modernize the respective airports. While Mumbai is half-done (not sure which half), Delhi has a swanky new terminal, more popularly known as T3, built at a cost of over USD 2.5 billion. Over 100,000 sft of space is dedicated to Retail, F&B and other commercial areas and also boasts the largest car parking facility in town! (while compared to any other Mall or Shopping Centre). Hyderabad and Bangalore had their own greenfield (built from scratch) airports led by GMR and Zurich airports’ consortium in the year 2008.

(Also read: Privatisation of airports)

Instead of switching off A/c or using inferior quality of flooring and other amenities, AAI should rather focus more on the commercial opportunities. AAI follows the “Competitive Tender” model where the bidder with the highest bid amount qualifies to operate the said commercial locations. Needless to say, most of the branded players shun from such tenders due to inconsistency of participation. For example, a branded pizza chain cannot sell beyond their range, so does a branded formal wear Retailer! Most of the spaces that are tendered out are between 8-20 sqm (about 90 – 220 sft) for a snack bar or even a specialised category apparel / accessories store or a book store! It’s not only a business challenge to run a retail establishment within such a small area – but it doesn’t provide a good retail experience as well. This is a fundamental philosophy-flaw of AAI that needs to change. Change NOW.

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If done properly, AAI can expect to garner reasonably good revenues from Non-Aero revenues. Chennai and Kolkata Airports which are being modernised by the AAI themselves will be a litmus test for Retailers. These airports are as large or larger than Bangalore & Hyderabad and the customer (Read: Passenger) is the same who is spending time and money at Delhi, Mumbai and other International airports. So, the intent to spend / opportunity to serve is already huge. With the burgeoning spends in Organized Retail even in tier II and tier III cities growing by over 35% year on year, it is no surprise that passengers in smaller airports / cities would spend on good quality products and services. HMSHost, a leading player in the F&B space at airports worldwide is now the largest player across Indian airports with significant presence at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and more recently at AAI managed airports at Chandigarh and Lucknow. Cafe Coffee Day, India’s largest cafe chain operates over 25 locations across various airports in India.

(Also Read: A lot happened over coffee!)

So now, its up to AAI how they would want to capture the wallet-spends of its passengers! As a regular user of airports, I wouldn’t mind lesser space at the terminals (as a passenger, my dwell time is no more than 45 minutes and I am not going to play football anyway), rather prefer a comfortable environment – reasonably well maintained terminals and hygienic toilets included.

Hope – the most important word in our lives. I hope things will change. Even with AAI. Let’s see.

Ashta Mudras

05 August, 2011

Spicejet and Indigo will help Retailers grow!

 

Photo courtesy: campaonindia.in

It was heartening to read that two of India’s low-cost airlines, Spicejet and IndiGo have ordered new aircraft. My former colleague and boss at BIAL Stephan Widrig, currently the Chief Commercial Officer at Zurich Airport used to say that world over, Aviation grows twice at the rate of national GDP. And rightfully so. Except for 2008-09 when India’s aviation landscape saw a slowdown, which was mostly a perceived threat to future incomes than any direct effect on current earnings, I guess we have been flying happily. The flight I just took, a Jet Lite from Delhi to Bangalore (low-cost identity of India’s premier airline Jet Aiways) was almost full,. When my ticket was booked a week ago, the return fare was around Rs. 11,000 (USD 230). Not bad, I would say. And almost all airlines are running full during the peak hours and the load factor on an average seems to be over 80% (no of seats filled per craft).

Spicejet was recently acquired by media baron Kalanithi Maran, who runs the Sun television network across the country. Though media and aviation have nothing much to do (atleast directly to spur each other’s growth), he would be the only person who would know the reason and logic behind entering a rather unknown industry. Having said that, he has been an excellent entrepreneur in his own right and has created a niche for himself in the media industry, in which his company controls over 70% of channels and viewership in Tamil Nadu, especially in South India. While he is known to be a media-shy person, he is also known for his aggressiveness in his business approach. So, when Spicejet announced expansion plans by acquiring new aircraft and applying for international routes, industry observes are not surprised. But his team and he are doing something rather differently. Instead of buying an Airbus or a Boeing, they have chosen to buy Bombardier aircraft. Except those in the industry, many wouldn’t know that aircraft which have lesser than 80 seats are exempt from various aviation and airport taxes in India. Most importantly, they don’t have to pay landing and parking charges at these airports. Since they have smaller aircraft sizes, they can easily land in smaller landing strips of 2,000 – 3,500 metres (Delhi has 4,200 metre long runway which is capable of handling the Airbus 380, the largest passenger plane currently). Many years back, Captain Gopinath, the pioneer of low-cost flying used the same to his advantage when he launched Air Deccan, India’s first low-cost airline by operating mostly ATRs to fly regional short-haul (less than 2 hour) routes. Similarly, Paramount Airways (which is now defunct and has severe debts) used Embraer aircraft and reaped benefits until such time they were alive. Sadly, both companies couldn’t sustain for too long due to investments and cash flows. Maran, hopefully shouldn’t have that issue.

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Now, how does that help Retailers? Indeed, it does. Indigo and Spicejet have announced plans for International expansion. While Spicejet has chosen Hyderabad Airport as its hub, Indigo will use Delhi  for expanding its base. Thanks to low-cost operations, both these airlines are expected to penetrate into Tier II towns. Smaller airports such as Raipur, Ranchi and Patna have demonstrated double-digit passenger growth over the past two years. Thanks to employment opportunities, youth from these cities are living and working in bigger cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore and fly down to their home-towns when required rather than spending days together in trains like in the good old times. Now – more the number of passengers, more the opportunity for commercial establishments. And that’s where Retailers are expected to benefit. For example, after successfully operating at Bangalore and Hyderabad airports for the past three years, HMSHost,  the $8 Billion F&B Retailer has recently won 10 year contracts at Chandigarh and Lucknow! While their bid was aggressive and raised eyebrows among the Industry, the company seems to be unfazed, After all, they operate at most number of airport locations in the world as a company, and should know better than anyone else. With their knowledge and expertise, not only would they set the standard in these airports, but would also fulfil the passenger requirements to the best possible. TFS, a newly launched company 2 years ago now operates F&B concessions at Mumbai and Delhi airports (the two airports account for over 45% of aviation in India). Chennai and Kolkata airports which are undergoing modernisation by the state-owned Airports Authority of India are also expected to go the master concessionaire way!

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Regional Airports like Trichy, Coimbatore, Mangalore, Nagpur, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar and many more are expected to propel aviation growth over the nest few years. Not only would they feed domestic traffic, they would also encourage the ever-aspiring  middle class to undertake their first foreign jaunts. Indigo is offering a return fare of Rs. 9,999 to Dubai or Singapore from Delhi. Add on another Rs. 5,000 or so from anywhere in India for a connecting Indigo flight and a foreign trip for a couple at less than Rs. 30,000 (excluding cost of stay which works out to be very cheap if one avails package deals). These low-cost carriers are indeed growing the market and this would only help Retail and F&B players who are currently operating, as well as intend to operate at airports. The F&B spend per pax is currently less than a dollar across Indian Airports – compare that with a pax spend (on F&B) across major airports in the world such as Dubai, Singapore, Heathrow, Zurich which ranges from $5 – $15. More so, the low-cost airlines do not provide F&B on-board, so that is another opportunity that the F&B Retailers can capture.

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Indeed, there is a long way to go for Travel Retailers in India and yes, it is expected to be a bumpy ride, thanks partially to lack of basic infrastructure requirements and trained manpower, but atleast there is a start that’s in the anvil. It’s up to the Retailers to identify and chase the opportunities and the to make the most out of them.

27 March, 2011

Redefining Airport Retail – Terminal Three, Delhi Airport



It was the first time ever (and hopefully the last time) that I ever missed a flight. Was stunned by the fact that something like that could actually happen! It wasn’t because I was wandering across the sprawling retail areas of the airport but because of a silly gaffe. Anyway, the pupose of my visit was fulfilled with a three hour walkthrough across the various areas of the airport. Although it’s been already written and told a few times so far, here’s a firsthand account of what’s for an avid shopper at T3. Firstly, if you were to really explore this place, block 60-90 minutes ahead of the scheduled boarding time (not the departure time). The design of the airport terminal is such that one enters the main hub after security check and then there are different spokes (or arms) which lead the passengers to the Boarding Gates. The Hub is where most of the Retail and F&B action is. So, be prepared to walk a long way before you finally get seated into the aircraft. Undoubtedly one of the most modern airports in the world, T3 as it is famously known is constructed and managed by the GMR Group which also manages the Hyderabad Airport in India and Ataturk Airport in Turkey.

As with most international airports, the Check-In and Arrival areas are common for both Domestic and International passengers. While there are limited Retail and F&B opportunities in these areas (mostly for convenience), I guess it is more by design since the passengers are expected to spend time and money in the main commercial areas after security check.  The walkway for passengers is through the retail stores – an interesting idea first explored at the Bangalore International Airport, which is predominantly how airport retail layouts are planned and executed world over. The idea is to make the passengers walk through the stores – the store aisles are identical to the walkways and hence give immense opportunity to convert passersby into potential customers. In the Domestic Departures, one is welcomed with a fascinating WH Smith, the UK based books and stationery retailer through a joint venture in India. Adjacent to it is another British Giant – Marks & Spencer that showcases daily wear fashion for men and women including accessories. The undergarments’ section at the entrance was a surprise – am sure store planners would have visualized some other way than reality. Then there are other major retail brands such as Fab-India and Swarovski showcasing Indian and International contemporary fashion, Croma Zip, the electronics mini-format from Tata Retail, Perfumes and Cosmetics from home-grown Parcos, Toys and early learning products from ELC, Sweets and Confectionery from Chokola and local delicacies from Haldirams. The F&B range is rather remarkable – given that passengers prefer to spend more time at bars and restaurants. T3 is the second home for Coffee Day Square that serves the most premium single-origin coffee sourced from all over the world apart from the regular fare that’s available across its other 1,070 cafes; Kingfisher Good Times Bar as the name suggests welcomes tired passengers to offer one for the runway; the massive foodcourt in the first floor offers over a dozen Indian and International offering– over 300 exciting items to choose from. On the way to the gates, there is also Dilli StrEAT – a superb idea that showcases local food delicacies. And then there are the Lounges which overflow (read pax waiting outside for some of them seated to move out) during the peak hours.

Given that our domestic passengers are not habituated to shop at airports, it was surprising to see such a spread-out retail offering. For example, the distance from the Business Lounges / Shopping & Dining areas to the Boarding Gates could be between 200 metres to 1,000 metres which means one may have to walk between 10-20 minutes to reach the aircraft.

The International Departures (after Emigration and Security check) is quite similar, except that the entrance is welcomed by one of the most fabulous Duty Free selections across categories such as Liquor and tobacco, Scotch whisky, Premium Wines, Perfumes and Cosmetics etc. Ethos, India’s largest retailer of watches and timewear operates a premium watch boutique. They have indeed walked a long way in Airport Retail after debuting in Bangalore Airport in 2008 and thereafter at Mumbai Airport. Then there are other premium and luxury brands such as Versace, Hugo Boss, Samsonite Black, Swarovski, Mango, Kimaya, etc. An interesting idea is the Indian souvenir and gifts shop - it also includes a SPA / Therapy centre and is welcomed with exciting artifacts and a photo of the Mahatma with a Charka – quite didn’t understand the significance except for a small note on “Service”. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf has a cafĂ© in the ground level but for a more detailed fare, one has to walk up to the first floor which has a massive food court and a special area for children to play – I guess the planners would have thought children would be playing while the adults are having a bite at the foodcourt which is again located between 200 – 1,000 meters from the Boarding Gates.

The kilometer long piers (at Domestic & International Departures) that connect the main building to the Boarding Gates do have some F&B opportunities, but the menu is selective and doesn’t attract passengers quite a bit, unless there is a compulsive need to stop-by. Pepsi is the exclusive partner for this airport and hence one can find a vending machine selling various packed beverages every 20 meters. Vodafone is the prominent telecom partner and even offers free browsing!  There are a number of ATMs, just look for them and you have the convenience of picking up cash on the go. 

Overall, it’s a joy to be at this Airport Terminal for which we have waited for many years - this airport was completed in 37 months with a capacity to manage 34 million passengers a year in comparison to Singapore Changi T3 (76 months, 22 million pax capacity), London Heathrow T5 (60 months, 25 million pax capacity) and Beijing T3 (60 months, 45 million pax capacity) – easy in and easy out - 168 check-in counters; 49 emigration counters, 46 immigration counters; in-line baggage handling system with a capacity to handle 12,800 bags per hours; 97 automatic travelators and 78 Boarding Bridges; an overall area of 5.4 million sqft including 215,000 sft of Retail space! Just that it takes too much time than anticipated, so double your proposed time if you want to pass through the Retail, F&B areas. As for shopping, if you still do, then Happy Shopping.

16 August, 2010

New Airline guidelines – a boon to Retailers

Even as the bus was moving slowly on the tarmac towards the aircraft, it all seemed a dream for me. I would actually be taking the flight to head back home after a long four days that included a road trip from Delhi to Chandigarh, Jalandhar and Amritsar and back to Delhi - a distance of over 900 kms covered in less than 60 hours. The car journey was indeed tiresome and the trip was hectic but the wish-list was complete - A visit to the Golden Temple, the Wagah Border, Wal-Mart stores in Punjab and a couple of other meetings. All those memories were coming back to my mind as the bus slowly halted. There were just five of us in the long bus operated by India’s most efficient airline, Jet Airways as most of them were already seated and their seat-belts fastened. Usually the late comers are welcomed with a stiff and dirty look by some passengers as though the flight was held up only because of them (which was not in our case). The crew, ever smiling and happy to help, guided us to our seats and the doors were being closed, the flight getting ready for take-off. As the plane reached the runway and started moving, I was amused that this could actually happen to me – reaching the airport 14 minutes before the scheduled departure time and still being flown. Yes, I reached at 18.31 hrs. at the Terminal 1D at Delhi Airport for a flight that was scheduled to depart at 18.45 hrs. Even the lady at the check-in was amused of my (in)sanity and reassured – that she wouldn’t be responsible if I couldn’t board the craft. I have held faith in miracles and one such happened that day.
Since I had already done a web-check the previous day, all I needed to do was carry a print out to show the Security staff and run to the boarding gates. The usually unfriendly and rude staff of CISF at Delhi Airport was, for a change nice and polite and let me past the security gates, while also advising that I need to really rush as the flight’s about to take off. Even as I approached the waiting area, my name along with a few others were being screamed on the Public Address systems and I had to run across the 2,000 sqm terminal building to reach the boarding gates. Just that I was feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t taking anything back for my family or friends from the sprawling Retail areas. What was reassuring was that there was an all-purpose retail outlet at the Arrival areas at Bangalore International Airport, managed by India’s leading Leisure Retailer Odyssey that stocks everything from toys to chocolates, books to music. So I didn’t have to worry much since I could pick it up after reaching Bangalore.



While my getting into the flight was indeed some kind of magic, it was an eye-opener and warning, given the new guidelines laid down by many of the airlines in conjunction with the airports – Check-In counters for Domestic Flights would close 45 minutes prior to scheduled departure (previously 30 minutes) and 75 minutes prior for International flights and this would be applicable at the top six airports by passenger volumes in India including Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad. This means one wouldn’t be able to check-in at the airport after the counters close, but could still board the flight if check-in has already been done though telephone or on the Web well in advance. Over a period of time, this trend would result in passengers arriving early to the airport, like how they do at other points of transit such as Railway stations and Bus stands. Earlier, the airports were smaller and cramped, but all this changed with the Government allowing private participation in constructing new infrastructure at airports. Bangalore International Airport was the first one to be signed on paper although Hyderabad International Airport was the first to commence its Greenfield Airport in 2008. GVK managed Mumbai International Airport had its new terminal building inaugurated a few months ago and GMR operated Delhi International Airport has recently commenced India’s pride, Terminal 3, or T3 as it is fondly called. Other airports at Chennai, Kolkata, Mangalore, Ahmadabad and many others managed by Airports Authority of India are being modernised at a total cost of over USD 4 Billion.


While arriving at the airport was not seen as a major attraction a few years ago, today passengers seem to love it. For Example, Cafe Coffee Day, the first national Retail Brand to enter airports many years ago had its share of patrons arriving at the erstwhile HAL Airport in Bangalore only to sip a cup of hot coffee before they left the city which they do even today at the new airport. Currently, CCD operates over 30 outlets across leading airports in India and is planning to enter many more in the years to come. The Bangalore International Airport was the first one in the country to have a properly planned and well-managed Retail footprint, led by India’s largest retailer in the lifestyle business, viz. Shoppers Stop which also incidentally operates at Hyderabad Airport. T3 at Delhi has over 20,000 sqm of Retail areas and hosts leading domestic, regional and international brands alike across domestic & International Departure and Arrival areas. It is quite common to see passengers packing sandwiches or burgers from CCD outlets along with a cold coffee or a frappe or Pizzas & Pepsi from Pizza Hut outlets at various airport terminals, thanks to the advent of low-cost airlines (which command a 35% market share in the Indian skies) that do not serve complimentary meals on board.


While arriving early to shop at Duty Free areas in the International Departures is common worldwide, the trend was basic and functional many years ago which was again altered at the Bangalore International Airport which hosts one of the best collections of Scotch, Tobacco, perfumes & cosmetics, Electronics etc. This is the airport where leading city-side retailers such as Odyssey Books and Leisure, Ethos Swiss Watch studio and fashion designer Deepika Govind started their airport retail journey. Today, Odyssey aand Ethos have mastered the trade and operate at many other airports while planning for more stores in times to come.

There are indeed many advantages for passengers to shop at airports. To begin with, it’s a lot of time saved for business passengers and busy executives, compared to that at the over-crowded malls in the city where entering and exiting could take more than 20 minutes during the weekends. Since these store understand the pulse of their customers, they stock the right kind of products so the decision making is quicker. Most importantly, these outlets offer a value-addition to their customers by bundling various promotions – afterall, the passenger doesn’t and cannot come every day to the airport! F&B operators focus on speed of delivery and high quality products and even offer tamper-proof packing so that there is no spill over even if it were to be consumed 20,000 ft above sea level. They also offer a wide assortment which caters to the millions of travellers who could never get bored of the offering.

So, if you are travelling through an airport next time, reach early. You might be in for a surprise looking at what’s available at the airport. Needless to say, the writer is not responsible if you exceed the limits on your credit card. Happy Shopping & Dining!

26 April, 2010

Duty Free in India – a fiasco or a success story in the making?


“Nuance Group (India) to exit Hyderabad Airport Travel Retail as new Tender looms” read the headline on The Moodie Report – the most respected and authentic Travel Retail news site that never sleeps. Even though the Publisher Martin Moodie, Deputy Editor Dermott David and many other senior people were stranded over the past 10 days due the flight disruptions caused by E15 (that’s the short code for the Icelandic Volcano), the news website kept going. Such is the commitment of the people behind. Back to the headline, which also appeared in a leading Indian newspaper a few days ago, it was indeed a surprise for many of us in the Industry. Or should we say was it a surprise that the news came so late! Well. 

The Nuance Group that operates over 400 shops across 60 airports and 20 countries worldwide and which is among the largest Duty Free operators in the world entered India in the year 2006, with a JV with Shoppers Stop, India’s leading retailer. The JV was specifically formed for the Duty Free tenders that were coming up then, at Bangalore and Hyderabad for the two new Greenfield airports. It was quite a surprise to see this JV and so were many other partnerships – The Oberoi Group with Heinemann, for example. It was the first time that international players were setting their eyes in India. It was initially India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), a Govt. Of India undertaking which was the monopoly operator across Indian airports over the past 3-4 decades. And then came in the private monopoly of Flemingo since the turn of the 21st century. This was challenged by the International players in 2006 when the top five Duty Free operators of the world including Nuance, DFS, Dufry, Heinemann and Alpha participated in the tender process of BIAL. The line-up and interest in the Indian Duty Free was so impressive that many in the industry were hoping for better days ahead, guessing that the international players with their global exposure and best practices would mark a change in the country. Wish dreams were horses!


The first International player to win a tender in India was the Nuance-Shoppers Stop JV at Bangalore International Airport. This was followed by a similar success at Hyderabad International Airport. Other players such as Dufry and Heinemann made a quiet exit from India heading back to their strong bases. Alpha, which had been operating in Kochi and Colombo for over 10 years went back to focus on its territories.

A lot was anticipated by the Industry from the Nuance-Shoppers JV since its victory from the tenders at Bangalore and Hyderabad. With their impeccable track record in India, Shoppers Stop was expected to put things into perspective and bring some method to madness in this crazy business. After all, travel retail was, and is still a very nascent industry in India and who would believe me as an Airport Retail Manager a few years ago when I would say passengers would buy not just books and magazines, but also diamonds, watches, t-shirts and perfumes, even in the domestic departures of the airports! Shoppers Stop is doing an excellent job and one can see this at the Bangalore and Hyderabad Airports. And Nuance, with their global experience and success was expected to negotiate the best rates from its suppliers and pass on the discounts to its customers at the International Departures and Arrivals. Needless to say, this is a true story today and the duty free stores in Bangalore and Hyderabad have been the favourite for most International passengers in recent times, surpassing erstwhile favorites such as Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok Duty Free.

So, what really went wrong at Hyderabad? Honestly, I wouldn’t like to speculate. But there are certain points that were evident with their business model, some of which are discussed here. Sure, these are observations of yours truly and a few people around while personal thoughts of some of the readers may differ. To begin with, the size of the market was over-estimated. Going by previous experiences, the incumbent Flemingo who was operating at the erstwhile Begumpet Airport at Hyderabad did not have such a large duty free area. This, in my opinion should have been the first learning. A large airport doesn’t necessarily mean a large Duty Free Store, many of you would agree. Next, the range included high-end premium products including Scotch and Cigars, which was probably not required. The reason for this being over 60% of international passengers are either proceeding towards or returning from the Middle East and are blue-collared workers, whose primary requirements include some inexpensive chocolates to distribute among friends and family, low-cost tobacco products, whisky and rum. And most importantly, over half of all passengers belong to the Muslim community who do not consume any form of alcohol. This, according to many in the industry was the most important point that should have been kept in mind. Indeed, for the reasons mentioned above, it was widely expected that Alpha Duty Free, now a part of the Autogrill Group, which has been operating in Cochin (with similar consumer profiles) could have been a better bet for this airport.


Most recently, middle of 2009, there was an unsavoury incident at Hyderabad Airport where some of the staff of the duty free were allegedly involved in a racket that included illegal smuggling of customs bonded goods. While the words may sound alarming or confusing, what was happening actually was that the staff were taking goods out of the store that were not purchased by passengers, but by illegally using their personal details. This, according to some in the close vicinity of the Operator as well as the Airport Management was the last nail on the coffin. Afterall, the GMR Group which operates and manages the airports in Delhi and Hyderabad was in no mood to continue a situation that would give it disrepute in any form. The new Terminal 3 at New Delhi is nearing completion and once finished would possibly be the best terminal in India and among the best in the world. So, the latest news is that a new tender is being called for and the new operator “may” have a Joint Venture with the GMR Group directly, just like how Aer Rianta has entered in Delhi.


Having said all of that, Nuance has done a commendable job in Bangalore over the last two years and this is also a reflection of their best practices being continued – they are also doing great in Zurich Airport, which happens to be one of the main shareholders in Bangalore Airport. Their achievements in Bangalore include bringing for the first time in India a Formula One Racing Car to many other exciting promotions that have never been tried in the country. While there is wide speculation that they would wind up their India operations  (naturally by the Indian Media coz they love doing it), many in the know are unwilling to believe so. Bangalore Duty Free, if done well in the years to come would be not just among the most profitable to the operator, but has the possibility to be one of the best in the world. Nuance has proven time and again that it is THE BEST Operator at Singapore and Hong Kong and understands the pulse of this market quite much. I am sure the business will flourish well in capable hands and continued mentoring and look forward to its wining accolades in times to come. So, where is the Indian Duty Free heading towards? Just wait until T3 opens - and the new integrated Terminal at Mumbai International Airport. Just a matter of time, when Indian operators will show the world how this business is run best. Cheers. 

A Firefly finally takes off

Monday - 22 Jan. ‘24 is a very important day in my professional life. I complete eight months today in my role as Executive Vice President a...