23 October, 2016
28 October, 2013
Even before I was part of the exciting world of Airports (in 2006), I have always been a big fan of the commercial opportunities at transit points, be it the railway stations or bus terminals, let alone airports. It was always a craze to have a cup of coffee at the railway station when we would go over to pick up our loved ones arriving from long distances, especially if the visits were made once in a couple of years. It was yet another joy to consume within trains – from Rajdhanis to Shatabdis to the passenger trains that would have hawkers selling everything from peanuts to guavas to oranges to chips and snacks. The joy of consumption during travel would somehow take over the joy of travel itself.
I have been using airports for just over 15 years now. My first flight was to Mumbai from Chennai to attend a job interview with a leading Retail Chain, with air tickets being sponsored by the company. That was the first time I was inside an Airport terminal, although I have been several times before that to drop off or receive guests from the Chennai Airport. The airport was and continues to be an important piece of the growth story of the state (of Tamilnadu) as well as served as a gateway to the rest of Southern India. In 2005, when the Government of India announced privatisation of Airports, the most protests were seen outside the Chennai Airport, the maximum being only second to the city of Kolkata. The staff of Airports Authority of India (AAI) and allied agencies protested that their livelihoods would be lost if the airport was privatised. The Government succumbed to pressure; Chennai’s loss was to the gain of Bangalore and Hyderabad. Both the cities claim to be the Gateway to South India and came up with world class private airports in the outskirts of the city in 2008, albeit the cities have been growing faster in their respective airport corridors over the past 8 years. Mumbai and Delhi somehow managed to keep the privatisation tab on. Delhi’s T3 Airport Terminal, which is managed by the GMR Group was built in record time and is now ranked among the top 5 in the world, consecutively for the past 3 years. Mumbai Airport, managed by the GVK Group built two new terminals for Domestic and International passengers and is struggling the political onslaught for space within its precincts which has been occupied by the public at large. Kolkata and Chennai Airports were allowed to be redeveloped by AAI and the work completed early this year with a time overshoot of over 9 months and a cost escalation of several hundred crores.
According to a recent survey by passengers on sleepinginairports.com, Kolkata Airport has been ranked 2nd worst in the world, with Chennai following a close third. What an infamy for a state which is considered the Detroit of India housing majors such as Ford, Nissan, Hyundai, Royal Enfield, Ashok Leyland, Hindustan Motors, MRF Tyres, Saint Gobain, Nokia, Samsung and many more! Chennai Port handles one of the highest loads in the peninsula. Chennai’s knowledgeable crowd contributes significantly to the Indian economy with Chennaites occupying important positions in the Indian Government as well as in global positions worldwide. And we have such a dud of an airport!
I feel quite disappointed, first as a citizen of the country and then as a resident of the city to pass through such an unglamorous airport every week, when I travel on work. The facilities are poorly planned. The Four Cs of airports, Comfort, Convenience, Cleanliness and Customer Service are shameful, to say the least. The only saving grace is the imposing façade which looks attractive for those passing by on the Grand Southern Trunk Road outside, but nothing more inside. There are no refreshments available outside the terminal, save for a sole counter which sells local cuisine at thrice the price of what’s sold downtown and a small kiosk of Café Coffee Day. The check-in hall has two ‘counters” where one needs to stand and eat snacks or sip coffee, just next to a dustbin which usually overflows, as though it’s a sort of a punishment. There is no bookshop or any other similar offering around; the only thing that solves passengers’ woes being the complimentary newspapers. The Departure areas are even worse. The layout of shops and other convenience is so bad that one would rather not step in than feeling disappointed thereafter. Cookieman and Frech Loaf are the only saving grace in the mess, although tehir products are meant to be take aways rather than consuming then and there. No Foodcourts or QSRs, just a restaurant located at the far end of the terminal. Services such as Taxi Operators and Forex are abysmally managed, with long queues for taxis in the peak hours in the evenings with unavailability of taxis for passengers. Airside services such as baggage handling are terrible. There are only four baggage belts and checked in luggage may arrive anywhere between 15-45 minutes after you land at the airport. There are only four aerobridges and the buses which provide ground transportation from the terminal to the aircrafts are poorly maintained. There is no complimentary Wi+Fi within the terminals. The airline staff and security staff from Central Industrial Security Force or CISF have a similar attitude as those who manage the airport – one that is indifferent and unfriendly. After all, it’s not just their fault since there is no one to oversee how good (or bad) their service towards passengers is.
I still believe there is hope. There is a plan to privatize the terminals through an open tender and the decision is expected to be taken by the end of this year with work to begin early 2014. Senior Executives from the companies which plan to bid had visited the airport to conduct a survey two weeks back were apparently welcomed by protestors from AAI, shooing them back not wanting privatization. But this time around, the Government doesn’t seem to back out. Hopefully, good sense would prevail and the airport would be handed over to a competent agency to serve passengers better.
An Airport is the face of a city and must display pride of place. It is the first point where international visitors to the country alight at. It is indeed important to put up a great one and maintain it as well. Lets hope.
30 September, 2013
14 October, 2011
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”.
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.
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.
05 August, 2011
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.
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!
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.
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.
16 August, 2010
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!
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