Bigger Not Always Better When It Comes to Passenger Spending

Airport size doesn’t necessarily affect how much visitors spend on concessions

By Bob Kerlik

Published December 16, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


We’ve all been there. You’re walking through the terminal and you spot a nice shirt or souvenir that would make a great gift.

But it turns out whether or not a passenger chooses to spend money at the airport varies greatly based on where they are – and experts say that not’s a coincidence.

Airport Experience News released its annual list of the Top 50 Performing North American Airports based on sales per passenger (excluding duty free). New York JFK topped the list, with each passenger spending $15.53. Pittsburgh International Airport was second at $14.69 per passenger, followed by Miami, Las Vegas and Portland in the top five.

Aneil Patel, vice president of air policy at Airports Council International – North America, said having the right mix of local and national brands is key to driving revenue.

“The local flavor is really important. It really gives the airport a sense of place and means people are more likely to spend,” Patel said. “And by all means, you still have national chains. One example is Starbucks; they’re always a top performer.”

Part of PIT’s prominent position near the top of the list is a reflection of the local tradition of shopping at the airport dating back to when it helped pioneer the airmall concept. Other factors include a commitment to street pricing (i.e., mandating prices similar to those found outside the airport), available space that allows for a variety of store concepts, and bringing more local brands into the terminal, said Kim Kitko, PIT’s Vice President of Business Development.

Pittsburgh International partners with concessionaire Fraport USA to manage its food, beverage and retail program.

“I think the key points are that the numbers reflect our ability to provide the right products and services and conveniences to our passenger base,” Kitko said. “People traveling through the Pittsburgh airport have known about the airmall for years and know that they can do their shopping here.”

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas was ranked fourth with $13.76 per passenger. Meeting customer needs, particularly with local concepts, is key to high sales, particularly in Las Vegas, officials said.

“People are coming here to see a show, sports, a conference – they’re coming with the mindset that they’re going to spend money,” said Amy Shaw, manager of commercial business and development at McCarran. “I think we do a good job of sense of place within the airport. We have a lot of ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ stores with varying price points and we also have higher-end stores. We’ve also created a program to introduce new products into the airport.”

While it’s good to be among the highest totals in North America, U.S. airports lag behind their Asian and European counterparts in terms of concepts that generate sales, said concessions consultant Kevin Roche.

“You know that you can do business. You know that people will spend money. The question is, how good can it be if we have something really meaningful to offer?” Roche said. “(In the U.S.) you have an infrastructure problem – most of them are old. They were designed in a different day and a different model. That’s a big problem. But generally speaking, I think they’re a decade or more behind what’s going on in Asia, what’s going on the Middle East.”

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