Airports and the Future of Tourism

The 25th ACI EUROPE General Assembly, Congress & Exhibition, hosted by Prague Airport, took place on 24-26 June. The theme of this year’s event – ‘Airports and the Future of Tourism’ – was a pertinent one, with tourism an area of key strategic relevance to both the airport and the city of Prague. The event attracted over 350 delegates from airports, airlines and ANSPs, as well as other aviation partners and the European Commission, including EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

Importantly, the Annual Congress saw ACI EUROPE and the ETC (European Travel Commission) release a joint position on Open Skies, as well as announcement of the ACI EUROPE Best Airport Awards. Meanwhile, Augustin de Romanet, President & CEO of Aéroports de Paris, was elected to lead ACI EUROPE as President; he succeeds Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company, who stepped down after two years – a double-term – as President.

The 26th ACI EUROPE General Assembly, Congress & Exhibition will be hosted by Athens International Airport on 20-22 June 2016.

Eduardo Santander and Olivier Jankovec

The Annual Congress saw ACI EUROPE and the ETC (European Travel Commission) release a joint position on Open Skies. This position underlines the need to support connectivity by expanding Open Skies beyond Europe. Pictured are Eduardo Santander, Executive Director/CEO, European Travel Commission, and Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI EUROPE.

Violeta Bulc

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc delivered the first keynote address, in which she recognised that aviation is “an important driver of economic growth, jobs, trade, and mobility”. She added that “aviation is an important employment sector, contributing €88 billion to EU GDP”. “Aviation is vital to tourism, business, and the social cohesion of the EU,” Commissioner Bulc explained. “Aviation is central to the priorities of the European Commission – competition and growth. Airports play a central role in Europe’s connectivity. Citizens and businesses expect more and quicker connections. The EU has work to do to ensure we stay at the heart of world aviation. The time to deal with these challenges is now. Failing to act could see Europe’s position weakened in the future. We need to really work together.”

Michael Cawley

Michael Cawley, Chairman of Fáilte Ireland, the Irish national tourism development authority (and former Deputy CEO of Ryanair), gave the second keynote address. He was charged with answering the following question: ‘Airports are the gateways to Europe’s tourism markets, but most are also loss-making. Is this inevitable, or are there better ways?’ Cawley said: “Be more like Dubai and integrate tourism and aviation policy – in Europe aviation is seen as a source of taxation, not as an economic stimuli, but it is my experience, as both an airline and now a tourism authority boss, that the downstream tourist spend benefits are 10 times the air fare! The benefits only exist because the airline routes exist.” He added: “These tourism benefits have to be recognised – the state aid rules [curbing airport support for new routes for example] are idiotic. They lead to airlines basing aircraft on the principles of different tax regimes in Europe, rather than on market decisions of where customers actually want to fly, it is completely inefficient.”

Olivier Jankovec

Olivier Jankovec, Director General ACI EUROPE, delivered his traditional State of the Industry address. He focused a number of areas, including an air traffic outlook, economic and financial performance, traffic concentration and airport competition. Air traffic significantly outperformed economic growth across Europe last year, as Europe’s airports welcomed an additional 160 million passengers, and record passenger traffic of 1.82 billion. “This summer certainly looks good, with airlines having adjusted their capacity to accommodate strong seasonal passenger demand. As economic conditions are set to keep improving in the EU on the back of the ECB’s stimulus programme and cheaper oil prices, this positive momentum for air traffic should persist in the medium-term. But the situation remains worrying for airports in Russia and Ukraine, where passenger traffic has declined – and more generally across Europe for freight traffic, where growth is anaemic,” Jankovec commented.

Arnaud Feist

Arnaud Feist, CEO Brussels Airport Company and outgoing ACI EUROPE President, outlined the views of Europe’s airports on the forthcoming EU Aviation Strategy, in particular on the issue of Open Skies. He stressed the need for the EU to place air connectivity at the very heart of its new aviation strategy. “Policy-making in Europe needs to take stock of the increased strategic relevance of air connectivity for growth and jobs. Together with airlines and our other aviation partners, airports in Europe account for 4.1% of European GDP and nearly 12 million jobs. With the shift underway in the global economy to emerging markets, remaining connected and open for business is an absolute imperative for Europe. This is why Open Skies should be a no-brainer,” Feist said.

Augustin de Romanet

Augustin de Romanet, President & CEO of Aéroports de Paris, was elected to lead ACI EUROPE as President; he succeeds Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company, who stepped down after two years – a double-term – as President.

The Airport Leaders Symposium

The Airport Leaders Symposium addressed the compelling issues facing airports, as well as what can be done to ensure tourism growth is sustainable. Chaired by David Feldman, Managing Partner, Exambela, the panellists included John Holland-Kaye, CEO London Heathrow Airport; Sani Sener, President & CEO, TAV Airports; Armando Brunini, CEO Naples Airport; Daniel Burkard, Deputy Airport Director, Non-Aviation Business Development, Moscow Domodedovo; and Julian Jäger, COO & Member of the Executive Board, Vienna International Airport.

The First Working Session

The First Working Session examined ‘What are the future tourism trends and forecasts?’. Chaired by Ralph Anker, Chief Analyst,, the session featured contributions from Augustin de Romanet, Chairman & CEO, Aéroports de Paris and incoming ACI EUROPE President; Eduardo Santander, Executive Director/CEO, European Travel Commission; David Scowsill, President & CEO, World Travel and Tourism Council; and Monika Palatková, Managing Director, CzechTourism. Key conclusions included the fact that people like to have holidays, even when times are tough economically; fuel is cheaper for airlines, so 2015 should be a good year for airlines and airports; and future travel growth is centred on Asia.

The Second Working Session

The Second Working Session highlighted some fascinating examples of airports working hand-in-hand with tourist development agencies. Neil Pakey, CEO Shannon Airport examined the benefits of two major international campaigns: The Gathering and The Wild Atlantic Way. Ignacio Biosca Vancells, Head of Airline Customer Relations & Airport Marketing, Aena, explained the longstanding effective partnership between Turespaña and Aena Aeropuertos. Finally, Khalfan Said Al Shueili, General Manager – Readiness, Oman Airports Management Company, detailed the Oman tourism strategy and the new 25-year plan stretching to 2040.

Open Skies debate

Open Skies was a hot topic at this year’s Annual Congress. It provoked much debate, not least in the conference session dedicated to the subject. The Open Skies Debate featured Matej Zakonjsek, Head of Cabinet of EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc; David O’Brien, CCO Ryanair; Dominique Thillaud, Chairman of the Management Board, Aéroports de la Côte d’Azur; Karl Garnadt, CEO Lufthansa German Airlines; Jim Callaghan, General Counsel and Company Secretary, Etihad Airways; and Arnaud Feist, CEO Brussels Airport Company and outgoing ACI EUROPE President.

The Third Working Session

The Third Working Session focused on the role great hospitality plays in improving airport performance every day. The panellists were Dag Rasmussen, Chairman & CEO, Lagardère Services; Ralph Lassau, Director Real Estate, Stuttgart Airport; Yiannis Paraschis, CEO Athens International Airport; and Song Hoi-See, Founder & CEO, Plaza Premium Lounge. There was a consensus on the importance of the human element and a customer-centric culture in providing great hospitality.

The Fourth Working Session

The Fourth Working Session closed the conference in appropriate fashion, with insights into successful tourism strategies which transformed airports. Sharing their thoughts were Dirk Schusdziara, General Manager, ICF Airports; Vaclav Rehor, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Czech Aeroholding; Björn Óli Hauksson, Managing Director, Keflavik International Airport; and Stephanie Wear, Director of Economic Development & Aviation, Turismo de Tenerife. Topics discussed included the effectiveness of incentive programmes in attracting and supporting new routes, as well as increasing tourist numbers.

ACI EUROPE Best Airports Awards

The 11th ACI EUROPE Best Airport Awards were presented at the gala dinner. The winners were: London City Airport (under 5 million passengers), Cologne-Bonn Airport (5-10 million passengers), Milan Malpensa Airport (10-25 million passengers), and London Heathrow Airport (over 25 million passengers and Eco-Innovation Award). The World Business Partner Award went to Torsten Hentschel, Managing Director of TH Airport Consulting.

AGA conference

The conference was complemented by an exhibition featuring a diverse mix of innovative suppliers and service providers, as well as a valuable platform for networking opportunities.

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