What are the drivers for growth and prosperity in our region in a post COVID-19 era?
Being from the Mediterranean, I am sure that we all feel familiar with the basic ingredients of our ancient agricultural tradition. Wheat, grapevine, olives. Allow me to use this metaphor to describe how we can use the air transport sector to develop our land.
First, we need a fertile land. In our sector, a fertile land means an attractive destination. No one doubts that the Mediterranean, from Greece or Turkey to Spain, from Croatia or Albania to Morocco or Egypt, and including all the rest of the countries in the region, is a privileged one. Mild weather, amazing cultural sites that show the birth of human civilization, and a rich gastronomy, are the essential elements of a highly attractive destination. We do not only have an extremely fertile land, but also the right seeds ready to be planted.
However, we have work to do. We cannot just sit and wait that this fertile land gives us the fruit it can develop. We have to plough the land. Investment in infrastructure, good and price-competitive hotels, and high safety and security standards, are essential to build a destination to which passengers and tourists are willing to travel. And also, efficient airports, from the operational and economic points of view for the airlines. All these infrastructure and conditions combined allow for the next step: to prepare the soil with mineral and nutrients.
Once we have the land in the right conditions, it is necessary to provide the adequate nutrients and to water the soil. In the air transport sector, the combination of nutrients and water comes in the form of an open market. Open skies agreements allow airlines to properly develop their activity in a healthy and sustainable manner. As mentioned before, the policy the European Union fosters in its Common Aviation Area, allows for market opening and regulatory convergence, which gives confidence to airlines to explore and develop new routes. New routes that allow passengers to fly and discover destinations, with the correspondent benefit for the regions they visit.
With our fertile land, the seeds properly planted, and the nutrients and water of an open market, we will be ready to collect the results of the harvest and to take them to the marketplace.
As in any marketplace, in the air transport sector, you have to sell your product. Airports and destinations play a key role in “selling the destination” to airlines and tour operators. The best way to do it is by joining efforts and coordinating messages. Airport operators and tourism authorities, both, have the right pieces of information to convince an airline, or a tour operator, that if they fly to their region, the result from the economic point of view will be positive. And not only positive, but also more profitable than alternative options. A way to work together is by creating the so-called “Route Development Committees” (RDC). In these Committees, tourism authorities, city councils, chambers of commerce and airports, each one in the area of their competence, offer market information, promotion and incentives in a joint package that facilitates the decision making process by the airlines. The RDC created in Barcelona is a good example and a reference of this kind of approach.
Aviation events like Routes, or Tourism ones like the World Travel Market or Fitur, are the right ones for these RDCs to meet with airlines and offer the products of their harvest. They do not differentiate too much from the ancient markets in which bread, wine or olive oil were sold in the different cities of the Mediterranean shore. Market intelligence with personalized and detailed business cases, incentives and promotion proposals are explained in detailed and exchanged with the network developers of the airlines, to finally be able to celebrate the opening of a new route. Patience and consistency are also essential elements of this marketplace, as the decision making process in the air transport sector can take long periods. Not too different from the wise strategy of the farmers in our countries.