Departing? D/FW Airport wants you to first go on a shopping trip
08:17 AM CST on Thursday, November 9, 2006
By SUZANNE MARTA / The Dallas Morning News
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport's year-old Terminal D buzzes with travelers sipping wine at La Bodega winery, checking out gadgets at Brookstone or sampling the tamales at area favorites such as Reata Grill.
But in the airport's older terminals, it's another story.
Standing near Gate B17, the only concessionaires you can see are a hot dog stand and a Starbucks that's partially blocked by construction. It doesn't exactly inspire a traveler to shop.
D/FW officials are trying to change that. Aiming to boost revenue from sources other than financially strapped tenant airlines, the airport is hoping to make travelers feel – and spend – more like they're in a shopping mall.
Excluding duty-free sales, the average D/FW passenger spent about $5.79 last year – well below the $7.05 industry average.
If each of D/FW's departing passengers were to spend $1 more in the terminals, it would add $30 million in annual revenue, lifting total concession revenue nearly 15 percent.
"We have more than 150,000 people walking through our terminals with money in their pockets, and they're hungry and they want to shop," said Joe Lopano, who heads D/FW's marketing efforts. "We want to capitalize on that."
To do that, officials have launched an $800,000 marketing campaign that includes banners and billboards on and off the airport property, aboard parking shuttles and in the concourses.
Research conducted by D/FW earlier this year showed that travelers were willing to shop but weren't aware of the shopping and dining options the airport offered.
"You don't have a line of sight to be able to see there's a T.G.I. Friday's around the corner," Mr. Lopano said, referring to the horseshoe shape of D/FW's original four terminals.
To alleviate that problem, airport officials divided the terminals into retail "neighborhoods" and posted signs that show restaurants and shops within a 10-minute walk – the distance customers said they'd be willing to go.
Nearly half of those surveyed said they'd even be willing to take the airport's Skylink train, which can connect a traveler to any of the other D/FW terminals – and shopping options – within about 5 minutes.
The airport has made some other adjustments.
In international Terminal D, vertical signs include pictures of nearby food options, an approach some concessionaires said has proved successful.
"People are more visual," said Don Mitchell, an airport concessionaire who runs Blue Mesa and Blue Bamboo in Terminal D and several Freshens frozen yogurt stands in the other terminals. "When they can see pictures of something, they're more likely to go there."
Mr. Mitchell said he's noticed customers wander more around Terminal D, looking at the various art installations and shopping. "In the older terminals, they tend to stay closer to their gate," he said.
Terminal D's mix of higher-end retailers and restaurants has also translated into higher sales. In that terminal, the average passenger spent 45 percent more than the airportwide figure.
About 60 stanchions filled with shopping guides are scattered through all the terminals showing nearby concessionaires. Pocket-size booklets list all the concessions throughout the airport. Like a mall, the airport will launch seasonal campaigns, promoting shopping periods before Christmas or Mother's Day.
Shopping and other concession revenues have taken on more importance to D/FW, which is looking to ease the costs of its airline tenants.
Traffic patterns have changed dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Local travelers arrive at the airport earlier for added security. Meanwhile, American Airlines Inc. has changed its schedule at its D/FW hub, so that many connecting passengers wait longer between flights.
As a result, "dwell" time inside D/FW's terminals has stretched to as much as two hours. That extra time presents a customer service issue for the airport as travelers try to be productive – or at least be entertained.
Meanwhile, the elimination of meal service in coach on most domestic flights means travelers want more food options at the airport.
During the last five years, concession sales have risen more than 50 percent.
Mark Knight, regional director for developer BAA USA Inc., said U.S. airports' focus on driving retail sales has intensified during the last five years.
"It's not acceptable anymore to have an airport that doesn't generate great retail sales," Mr. Knight said. "Maximizing revenues at the airport is critical to making sure airlines have a better operating environment."
BAA USA, whose parent company runs London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports, among several others, pioneered the movement in the U.S. 15 years ago, transforming the concessions at Pittsburgh International Airport by introducing street pricing and attracting mall mainstays such as the Gap and Johnston & Murphy. The airport is now the industry leader, with 2006 sales per passenger exceeding $13.
The street pricing initiative proved important in changing perceptions that airport shops were more expensive than those in a mall.
For more than a decade, D/FW has enforced pricing rules that allow concessionaires to charge no more than 10 percent higher than their counterparts away from the airport.
Airport customers tend to be more affluent than those in a typical mall, making them an attractive target for retailers.
"These are people with more money than time," Mr. Knight said. "If you can offer something they want at a reasonable price, it's amazing how much business you can do."
Spending at newsstands, restaurants and stores at airports has been growing as travelers spend more time in terminals. Here’s how the top performing North American airports compare:
Average sales per departing passenger*
New York (JFK):
Washington, D.C. (Reagan)
West Palm Beach, Fla.
New York (LaGuardia)
Atlantic City, N.J.
Salt Lake City
Washington D.C. (Dulles)
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Santa Ana, Calif.
*Figures are for 2005. Excludes sales of duty-free items
**In cases of a tie, the airport with higher total sales ranks higher.
SOURCE: Airport Revenue News