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News Article

Competition, Collaboration and Destination Marketing

By Alejandro Enríquez | Wed, 11/27/2019 - 18:16

Rather than offering a transportation service, airports and airlines need to deliver a customized experience for a more demanding customer profile, panelists at the Mexico Aerospace Forum 2019 said on Wednesday at the Marquis Hotel in Mexico City. The panel kicking off the afternoon session featured Ricardo Dueñas, Director General of Grupo Aeroportuario del Norte (OMA); Felipe Bonifatti, Director General of Mexico of Luftansa Group; Guillhem Mallet, General Manager of Air France-KLM México; and Cuitlahuac Gutierrez, Country Manager Mexico of IATA.

Mallet suggested that three actors are involved in improving flight routes and destinations: airports, airlines and public authorities. “Each one of these parties must assume part of the risk a new airport and a new route represents. This is a long-term project and we need to provide stability for its success. Consequently, we need to sit at the table and negotiate.”

Dueñas added that airport operators are a fourth element in this formula. “What we have done together is to look at the market and see how we can support each other to open new routes.” He explained that airlines and airport operators hold annual meetings where operators can make the case for some destinations to be taken into account. “Often, legal certainty and insecurity can be decisive factors when airlines choose new routes” he said.

Without a doubt, a growing tourism industry is shaping the plans for airlines. According to Gutierrez, “countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are fighting over every tourist.” Lufthansa already is planning an expansion, said Bonifatti. “This year, we opened a Barbados-Frankfurt direct flight three times a week. Next year, we will open 13 new routes in the Americas, all of them in tourist destinations. The industry is telling us to focus on tourism.”

The four big aerospace players agreed that Mexico’s demographic bonus will bring new challenges to both airlines and airports as globalization raises standards. “We have a more demanding customer than before. They are global,” said Dueñas. Regarding how airlines are preparing for this change, Mallet mentioned three important elements Air France-KLM is taking into account. “First, there is connectivity; second, passenger experience on the plane; and third, sustainability. For us, flying responsibly has become a priority.” For its part, Lufthansa’s focus now is on digitalization. “Our challenge is how do we incorporate digitalization into the travel experience of our users. The more digitalization helps to create customized travel experiences, the more we can attend the needs of new generations to travel instead of just being transported from A to B,” Bonifatti said.

Technology will also present new opportunities to increase customer satisfaction when going through airports. According to Dueñas, airport operators foresee a day when security checks are no longer necessary. “Twenty years ago, if you would have told people that you could travel only with your phone, it would have been unbelievable. Now, we can discuss having machines, cameras and sensors surrounding passengers as they walk through airport halls and if needed, they will be asked to undergo an inspection,” Dueñas said.

The two airline representatives, Mallet and Bonifatti, agreed that steps were needed to alleviate the saturation at Mexico City International Airport (AICM). “We focus on finding a balance between passenger satisfaction and costs,” said Mallet. “We operate a 380-model plane, with more than 500 seats. Infrastructure is key.” Bonifatti agreed that a revision of Mexico’s air space and infrastructure is needed. “Frankfurt airport was in a very similar situation to AICM in 1991. However, European airports constantly renovate their facilities and make plans to avoid any possible saturation. Every time I pass through Frankfurt, I see work going on at the airport,” he said.

Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst