Hey, big spenders: Malaga airport is top

Passengers making their way through the duty free shopping area at Malaga airport.
Passengers making their way through the duty free shopping area at Malaga airport. / SUR
  • A third of total airport turnover comes from retail services; new food outlets and even slot machines are being added

When passengers go to catch their flight at Malaga airport, there’s no way for them to escape the duty-free shopping these days as the route from security control snakes past rows of glittering shelving. However, for the 16.6 million people that pass though every year it seems they just can’t get enough of it.

The Spanish airport authority, Aena, has said that Malaga airport tops the list of the most spent per passenger in shops and restaurants in all the country’s airports.

The main duty free shop is now the epicentre of a lively, bustling shopping plaza, and the number of shops and eateries is increasing in line with passenger numbers.

It is of special interest to exclusive brands, because they consider this the ideal way to have a presence in Malaga. In fact, some products can only be found at the airport because shops elsewhere on the Costa del Sol do not stock them.

The steady trickle of customers brings the total turnover of shops, restaurants and rental car offices at the airport to about 300 million euros a year, which is about one-third of the airport’s overall income, says José Manuel Fernández Bosch, director of commercial services at Aena.

Most of this money is spent by travellers in nearly 15,000 square metres of retail space, of which about 7,000 square metres are taken up by cafés and restaurants. Food sales are becoming increasingly important.

The rest of the space is almost equally divided between the general shopping area and the duty free section. In total, passengers can choose between 25 stores, seven of them offering tax-free shopping.

The reason so much money is spent here per passenger is the profile of the customer. Fernández Bosch says a high percentage of foreign tourists use these airports, and many are travelling for holidays and leisure purposes. This means that they are in the mood for spending, buying gifts for the family or going home with local produce which they have enjoyed during their stay and want to take back to their own countries. That is why passengers in Malaga spend more than those in the busier airports in Madrid and Barcelona, where more people travel regularly on business and are not interested in shopping. Alicante airport also has a high spend per passenger for the same reasons.

Last year 14,341,618 passengers at Malaga airport flew to or from a foreign city, which was 16.4 per cent more than in 2015. Of those, nearly 5.5 million were from the UK, and it is the British who spend most at the airport overall. However, it is the Russians who spend more per person.

“A third of the passengers are British, and they love shopping here. They spend more at the airport than the Germans. Scandinavians also spend quite a bit, but the Russians spend the largest amounts of money individually. We are also seeing that the ruble is beginning to recover after falling for a year. It is a very interesting market, and in fact there are signs in Russian in the duty free shop,” says Fernández Bosch.

Walking through the shopping area, it is striking that the shops seem so empty, but they are not worried about that. “That’s what this business is like,” says one shop assistant. The stores are never crowded. In the central duty free shop, a Dutch couple pick up some chocolates and a bottle of Malaga wine. “We want our family to try it,” the couple say.

Fernández Bosch continues, “The way people shop here is different. It’s another concept, and the shops make money. The ones which sell the most here take about 2.5 million euros, and some of the restaurants can take as much as five million.”

Although there are shops in the check-in area, more people use the ones in the departure lounge, after passing through security.

“People are anxious to get that stage over and done with, and when they have been through security they are more relaxed and inclined to have a coffee or a drink and buy perfume,” he says.

The shops and restaurants generate 1,000 of the 6,000 jobs at the airport, and while sales in the restaurant sector in Spain as a whole are increasing by 1.9 per cent, in airports the increase is 15 per cent, which is why there is plenty of demand for airport premises.

Fernández Bosch also says that new services are being incorporated into the airport, and the first slot-machine gambling arcade has just opened in Malaga. A similar one is being considered in Alicante.

“In this unit you can use slot machines or play electronic roulette. We thought hard about the project and decided to use Orenes, which is a highly specialised operator. The room is 180 metres in size,” he says.

The product that sells the most is...“vodka”, reveals the Aena director. And the busiest month? Although the highest numbers of passengers use the airport in July and August, surprisingly more sales are made in September.