Duty-free perfumes, expensive bottles of whiskey, last-minute curios for loved ones at home – retail in airports have traditionally been an afterthought for the aviation industry - as something to keep passengers occupied while they wait for their flights.
But as new airports are built and existing ones gain new terminals, there has been a shift in how these shops are laid out, incorporating the shopping experience into the design of an airport space.
READ: 'One bag can cause big jams' – OR Tambo to continue irregular baggage rules for June/July peak season travelling
Internationally, airports like Singapore’s new revamped Changi Airport, with its gigantic indoor waterfall, garden and overall futuristic look, have proven that through the retail space one could turn an airport into a destination itself.
This has become especially evident at this year’s World Airport Expo, attended by Airports Company South Africa’s top brass, including King Shaka International Airport’s general manager Terence Delomoney.
“What the airport industry is trying to do is to lower passenger tax and airline charges and then boost the non-aeronautical component of the business, which will then bring the total cost of travel down and start getting more people into the aviation industry.”
SEE: These 4 SA airports named the best in Africa in the Airport Service Quality Awards
He believes that there’s a need to create a sense of place at airports, that not only sets passengers at ease through service levels and technology, but also reflects the identity of the destination it is set in.
According to Delomoney, the best way to do this is through the products made available in the airport’s retail space.
“Airports are trying to localise – as much as you want the big international brands there’s also a move towards localisation. It creates a sense of space but also enables local people in that region to participate in the airport commercial space.”
And this rethinking is especially visible in the changes at King Shaka.
The domestic departures terminal has seen a revamp where its commercial spaces have been moved to the centre, ideally positioned so that passengers walk through the shops to get to their gates.
The Spur restaurant has been renovated to include new facilities like USB charge ports for cellphones at tables and a bottomless cold drink station for those with long waits.
ALSO SEE: King Shaka hits record 5.5m passengers as direct Durban-London route plans continue
The airport itself also promotes its retail spaces on its social media pages, advertising deals so that passengers already know what’s on offer before they even reach the airport.
“The layout of retail is moving away from some shop stuck in a dingy corner – which is how we used to plan the flow of airports – but now planning happens with commercial at the forefront. So when you’re planning terminals and airports, you consider how your retail will be laid out with bright, open spaces that allow passengers to be attracted to the shops.”
But the process is very calculated – Delamoney adds that all of this is underpinned by serious market research.
“Often airports in the past tried to think for their passengers and stakeholders as to what would be best for them, but more and more it’s about what they actually want through surveys.”
WATCH: A sneak-peek at Emirates' luxe First Class suite coming to Durban
And the retail spaces are also taking on the unique opportunities that having an airport space can provide.
Last year, King Shaka’s Sunglass Hut kiosk offered travellers on their way to the fashionable Durban July the chance to lease their expensive glasses for the weekend, and offering discounts if they end up buying the glasses in the end.
Where in a normal mall would you ever find this kind of deal?
Find Your Escape by searching and comparing flight prices here. You can also sign-up for the Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe here. Or download the News24 App here, to receive expertly curated travel ideas and deals directly to your mobile.