Take Off: 4 Cool Things About the Airport Business

For over 8 years, Blue Daring has been a proud business owner at O’Hare Airport.

Through the Federal Aviation Authority’s Airport Certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program, we were afforded the opportunity to partner with the country’s and later the world’s largest travel retailer as a minority stakeholder and partner in two concession operations at O’Hare: Barbara’s Bookstores and the duty-free operation at the international terminal.

For the first time last week, I attended the Airport Minority Advisory Council’s (AMAC) Annual Conference in Denver. AMAC is a national advocacy organization for minority-owned airport businesses. The conference was attended by airport business owners like Blue Daring (most for who airports are their sole business), the businesses that cater to them, airport officials and regulators and administrators from the FAA.  It was an invigorating experience that emphasized what an integral role airports have in a city’s economic ecosystem.

While I picked up a lot of valuable information, a few things stood out of interest to anyone who has ever wondered about business at the airports:

Airports Are Big Business

Today, over 45% of American airport revenue comes from duty-free and retail–accounting for about $2.1 billion annually. With airports trying to mitigate the volatility around airlines, that number is anticipated to grow making the market ripe for opportunity

Courtesy of Airports Council International


Airports Are Hungry for Innovative Ideas 

More and more cities around the country are working to make their airports destinations in and of themselves. The idea is that those perks will drive travelers to come, subsequently driving revenue to the airport. This means elevated shopping experiences, local eateries and new lifestyle features like yoga, kids play spaces and museums. While the airport industry is a niche one with a few major market leaders, airports are hungry for out of the box ideas that can make a city’s airport “experience” unique. That said, whoever you are, if you have a great idea for your local airport, pick up the phone.  Likely your call will be answered.

Strategic Partnerships Are Key

Whether it be partnering with a minority-certified business to achieve contract quotas, engaging a local celebrity to lend his/her name to your retail concept or partnering with an existing tenant who has additional space in the terminal you want to be in, partnerships are essential to tapping into the airport business. Conferences like AMAC’s, and those put together by Airport Revenue News and Airports Council International annually are an exceptional place to introduce yourself to potential partners.

The Opportunities Are Abroad

As demand for travel explodes abroad, governments in China and the Middle East are building airports like they are going out of style. In China alone, 55 new airports are planned by the end of next year. In the Middle East, Doha just opened what it hopes to be the world’s largest airport (at least it’s the most expensive one) and there is already a comparably sized one in construction in Abu Dhabi. What that means for you? If you own a unique concept and have relationships in anyone of those markets, time to pick up the phone.

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