As markets have liberalised, so airports have begun to compete with each other for business. That has put the job of airport marketing centre stage, argues Rolf Ewald, who has worked worldwide for Düsseldorf Airport and lectures at Westminster University in London.

It is true that airport marketing is a relatively young discipline. Prior to deregulation, airports saw little need to sell their advantages to what they saw as their airline tenants. But that has since changed radically. Today's airports fight hard for new business especially in Europe's increasingly competitive single air market. And this new competitive edge has made the airline marketing role into a key strategic job in the industry. And candidates are in demand.

Airline marketing is, admittedly, a highly specialised activity, but it plays a key role in safeguarding the future of the airport's core business through a mix of traffic promotion; attraction of air services; and new business development. Staff experienced in these fields are urgently required worldwide and not only by airports. Consultancies such as Airport Consulting Vienna or Lufthansa Consulting are keen to take on the right candidates, and so are investor groups looking at the airport sector. In the US, too, airports regularly invite tenders from consultancies for airline marketing projects.

Although open to everyone, the ideal candidate is an all-rounder with knowledge of both airport marketing and/or market research and the airline business - especially route-planning, alliances, network strategy. They could already be working in an airline or airport, but what they must have is the creativity and commitment demanded by this multi-faceted role. Clearly a good marketing professional needs an instinct for when and why to attract an airline, and how to do so cost-effectively. They also need to feel at ease when networking with contacts or making presentations. An understanding of foreign cultures is useful in order to reach beyond language barriers, although fluency in English is essential.

Above all the marketeer needs to be persuasive if they are to win new service, convincing both the airline management and the local country manager. With fierce competition among airports, airline demands tend to be high. Carriers do not expect a standard, one-size-fits-all presentation. They prefer specific tailor-made arguments from the airport. The research is focused on specific route assessments based around issues such as:

motivation for travel demand, including foreign trade, direct investment or travel by different ethnic groups; route-specific market size of traffic for both business and leisure passenger traffic, as well as cargo; related issues such as route-assessment or traffic rights.

Also required are surveys of forwarding agents, tour operators and umbrella organisations such as local/foreign chambers of commerce, and support from the business community which generates the traffic.

Any new air service, especially to an overseas destination, vastly improves the economy of the airport's home region. It results in significant time-saving benefits, especially for business travellers of foreign trade- oriented firms, as well as improvements in terms of access to world markets, capital imports and the location of new firms - that also means new jobs for the community.

There are ample opportunities for recapturing traffic which has drifted off to a major hub. The high growth rates at smaller airports illustrate that the assumption by the large hubs that they would always be the first choice for passengers no longer holds true. The airport business is simply too strong to be held back by the bureaucratic restrictions rife within public authorities.

The ambition of smaller airports to attract their own direct-services and so to haul back traffic from the main hubs is no dream. Just witness the levels of passenger and cargo, as well as investment going into Europe's secondary airports. Examples of new daily long haul air services include the service between Düsseldorf and Dubai being flown by Emirates or the launch of Washington service from Berlin by Lufthansa. Persuading existing operators to launch new services is also part of the game.

It may be tougher to attract new airlines to an airport than to bring in retailers, but the revenue rewards attracted by a single deal are also much greater. Understandably, some executives expect short-term success, but it can take years to attract a new daily long haul service. A candidate can easily counter that the successful attraction of, for example, a Boeing 767 service will mean profits worth millions of dollars - from landing and handling charges; concession fees and, of course, in attracting duty-free and retail sales.

With increasing airport competition and growing pressure to amortise big investments, the issue of hiring airline marketing know-how will become more urgent for airport managements keen to safeguard their core traffic business. Increasing awareness among the airports of the favourable cost-to-benefit-ratio of attracting airlines means the numbers of vacancies for skilled airline marketeers is only set to increase.

Source: Airline Business