Former CEO of Apple John Sculley once remarked that “no great marketing decisions have ever been made on qualitative data.” That might be true in the IT industry, but tell that to the Abu Dhabi Airport Company (ADAC).
Its marketing campaign was voted the best in the business by airlines at last year’s World Routes Marketing Awards in Berlin, beating off stiff competition from Los Angeles, Budapest and Accra.
The key criteria on which the awards are based are innovation in the airport’s marketing strategy and approach and the results this has achieved; both in terms of routes launched and in traffic growth, and in both areas ADAC can certainly claim some concrete successes.
In 2011, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) greeted 12.4 million passengers, a record for the gateway and a 14% increase on the previous year, a figure that many of the world’s airports could only dream of.
The airport has also had its fair share of new airlines arriving, including national carrier Czech Airlines in mid-2011, while this January it welcomed its first airberlin flights after the carrier switched its UAE base from Dubai.
But what is the secret of ADAC’s marketing success? According to George Karamanos, vice president of corporate marketing and communications, it’s more like the old adage ‘1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’.
“I don’t think there is any real secret to our success as such; it all comes down to a lot of work and research in order to offer our airlines a very comprehensive support package,” he says.
“From the beginning, our marketing strategy has been based on the importance of discussions and dialogue with airlines, not only in order to find out what they require, but also to communicate the potential that Abu Dhabi has to offer,” he explains.
Through its interaction with airlines and its stakeholders, ADAC has established a marketing strategy based on four pillars, explains Karamanos. They are:
1 Marketing intelligence – endeavouring to deliver the best and most accurate information for the airline.
2 Supporting airlines during their route launch with a package of incentives to provide a one-stop shop of support.
3 Core promotions – marketing agreements and sales packages for airlines. ADAC often continues to offer these even if an airline decides to stop serving the market.
4 Working with all its stakeholders in Abu Dhabi; from tourism authorities and ground handlers to the Department for Transport.
For ADAC, as for most airports, its route development strategy rests on its ability to offer airlines the kind of data that will allow them to make an informed decision about the viability of a route or market – but what marks the airport authority out from many of its competitors is the quality of information provided, Karamanos explains.
“We have invested a lot into our market intelligence; we give airlines a lot of different kinds of data and we have invested in an expansive passenger marketing survey which gives us the ability to offer airlines information they can not get anywhere else; very few airports can offer this. It may be expensive, but we believe it gives us a competitive advantage, both in attracting airlines and retaining existing ones.”
ADAC offers an incentive package to support airlines launching a route and continuing to keep it viable, including feasibility studies, route performance forecasts supported by tools such as netLine Plan and good old-fashioned marketing support.
“Most of the core promotions with airlines are online; also we do promote certain airlines more widely; it all depends on the approach. Often we offer them the services of our own advertising agencies on the best way to communicate that message; sometimes that is via online adverts, print, TV or radio.”
In online marketing, Abu Dhabi has been something of a pioneer through the launch of its dedicated airline marketing blog. Offering a selection of categories, from airport and general news to in-depth traffic and market analysis by ADAC staff, adacblog.com/blog helps to keep airlines up to speed with the latest developments.
But what happens if an airline decides it is no longer going to operate out of Abu Dhabi? Not a problem, according to Karamanos who explains that ADAC will seek to continue the support in the hope that, in the long-term, it will come back.
“We continue to offer support for the airline that starts a new route; even if it stops operating it we continue to help because we believe there is a market there and the reason behind their leaving is not because that has disappeared; there could be any number of causes, so we continue to talk to them and this has paid off.
“Recent examples this year include Air France-KLM; they came back after many years operating here. Transaero have also returned.”
But having the latent market demand is not the only thing an airline is looking for, believes Karamanos; the airport facilities are also key and ADAC has been working hard to offer the highest standards of customer care to airlines and passengers.
AUH is in the midst of a three-phase expansion project, which will see three terminals capable of handling
60 million passengers per year by the year 2045.
Inside the terminal, Abu Dhabi has become one of a handful of airports to roll out IATA’s Fast Travel Program, which provides self-service options through a passenger’s journey.
So how would Karamanos describe the ADAC brand? “If I had to describe the brand in a few words, they would be dynamism, novelty, a creative touch, hospitality and a long-term relationship with our airlines,” he says.
No doubt airlines will be able to experience all of these when they travel to Abu Dhabi for World Routes 2012.
Fact file: George Karamanos
Obtained his Master of Science in Transportation Management, specialising in Aviation Management and Strategy, from the University of New York.
1992: Began his career as an airline strategy consultant with Speedwing/ORCO.
1995: Joins Virgin Atlantic in Athens as business development manager for Asia.
2000: Moves to Athens International Airport as marketing manager with responsibilities for airline and passenger marketing and marketing intelligence.
2005: Promoted to director of communications & marketing.
2009: Joins ADAC as vice president of corporate marketing & communications.
Contributes to Athens winning five consecutive OAG/Routes Airport Marketing Awards.
Heads the ADAC marketing team that is awarded the 2011 Asian regional award and the overall marketing award during the World Routes Awards 2011 held in Berlin.
This article features in Routes News 2012 Issue 1