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Sangster operator hires consultants to revamp retail - Airport partner weighing bid for NMIA

Published:Wednesday | February 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson
Sangster International Airport, Jamaica's largest airport, is reviewing its retail operations.
Rafael Echevarne, CEO of MBJ Airports Limited.

Pragma consultants are now analysing the retail offerings at Sangster International Airport (SIA) in Montego Bay, ahead of midyear plans by the airport's management to put up 13 of its 63 retail shops for tender.

The shop tenders will mean that outside businesses will have an opportunity to outbid the existing tenants for these retail spaces at the SIA, the nation's busiest airport.

It comes at a time when MBJ Airports Limited, which operates the airport, wants to modernise their offering to drive sales. The airport wants more trendy or locally innovative stores, which could result in some existing shops failing to make the list.

"The study by Pragma will provide a framework for the improvement of the retail offer and experience at the airport," said MBJ Airports CEO Rafael Echevarne. "They are looking at the types of products, the layout of the shops, the design of the shops, and all that is being done right now."

MBJ Airports Limited is a partnership between Mexico-based Pacific Airport Group (GAP) and Vantage Airport Group of Canada. MBJ has a 30-year concession agreement with the Government of Jamaica that began in 2003 to operate the Montego Bay-based airport.

Echevarne confirmed that the primary partner in MBJ is also considering bidding for the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA), which was recently put back on the market and is soliciting prequalification bids.

"They are looking at the possibility of making a bid for it, GAP that is," said the airport executive. He indicated, however, that the company would need to further analyse the viability prior to making a final decision on whether to bid for Kingston-based NMIA.

As for the Sangster retail shops, Pragma, which is based in the United Kingdom, will present its findings to MBJ AirportS by March, while the Sangster operator expects to issue a request for proposals and tenders by June. Sangster is Jamaica's largest airport through which around four million passengers now pass annually.

Pragma's airport and travel division has conducted research and projects in over 50 airports worldwide. It has also worked with travel companies ranging from tour operators to cruise lines to motorway service station operators.

"We want to have more Jamaican things. And good-quality Jamaican things at the airport, including Jamaican art," said Echevarne.

Part of that drive involves Sangster showcasing 10 pieces of graphic art from the late artist Michael 'Freestylee' Thompson along the arrival terminal at the airport. It is aimed at giving the traveller a visual representation of Jamaican culture.




Spanish Court Montego Bay sponsored the exhibit, which will remain part of MBJ's permanent collection of art at the airport, said Echevarne.

"Michael's work is iconic and celebrates, unmistakably, the Jamaican spirit and the country's rich cultural heritage. We salute Spanish Court for its civic leadership and generosity and are proud to share the vision for a revitalised Montego Bay," said Echevarne.

The effort to reshape the offerings at the airport appears to align with previous interviews in which Sangster's team has noted concern that online shopping offers some of the same overseas-made products at its retail stores which, at times, obviates the need to shop in the airport. As such, there was consideration for offering more concept stores in which experiences are tied to products to drive sales.

Echevarne has qualified that the airport is not looking to replace existing shop operators.

"It's not a question of getting the existing tenants out. It is an open tender process and we are inviting all the existing operators, and one thing for sure is that we want all the shops to get better, all the time. We want to improve the offering, the display of goods, to make things stands out, while being attractive and as Jamaican as can be," he said.

The airport has "60,000 square feet" of retail space in the terminal building that offers duty free, food and beverage, and other shops.

The shift towards trendy shops will also be paired with a cosmetic redesign of the shopping terminal - all part of the airport master plan which includes the runway extension, expansion and modernisation of the terminal, expansion of airplane parking and expansion of car parking.