Airport overcomes ‘Empty Restaurant Syndrome’ as Airlines and passengers return

CARDIFF Airport has overcome its 'empty restaurant syndrome' to achieve 27 per cent growth in passenger numbers in the past year.

Airport managing director Debra Barber said the airport had become one of those empty restaurants people pass by, to go to a busier one, even though the empty one might provide better food and service.

"The airport had reached a point where passengers and airlines didn't see us as an option any more," Debra said.

"In 2012 we fell below a million passengers a year. We had experienced a catastrophic fall, and we had a terminal that was falling apart.

"We needed to invest in the terminal, we needed to attract the airlines back, we needed to attract passengers back through those additional routes, and we needed to improve the whole 'Cardiff Airport Experience'.

"We have achieved all of that, with passenger numbers reaching 1.3million this year.​

"The airlines are knocking on our door. A few years ago, we just couldn't get to talk to them. If we get the flights here we know people will use them

"In addition, we have invested in equipment, for example, £1.5million on a new baggage system, and directly employ most of the staff – 250 people."  Debra told a meeting of The Forum networking group that enthusiasm about the airport was infectious among Welsh people, and there was a sense of pride and ownership, which the airport was embracing.

And while outbound numbers continued to perform well, the number of people travelling into the airport was also rising.

"Sixty per cent of people on the KLM routes come from outside the UK. For Milan that figure is 50pc and for Barcelona 45pc."

Debra said the Welsh Government-owned airport was continuing to invest in its passenger experience, introducing services such as valet parking in the future.

"We know we can't compete with the retail offering at some other airports, and that is why we are developing our brand as a 'boutique airport with a friendly service and on most people's doorstep."

She also said the airport wanted to promote the advantages of hub-flying more.

"You can get from Cardiff to more than 900 destinations around the world via hubs. There is a misconception about cost and time of doing that.

"Going via Dublin or Schiphol compared to travelling from a London airport can save you time and money.

Debra said the current weak position of the pound was an issue for airline operators, and could be for tourists travelling abroad in 2017.

She said the key was developing a round-the-year-service for the core business, and also maximizing the benefits of significant major events such as the Champions League Final being staged in Cardiff next May.

  • The Forum is a South Wales networking group sponsored by Cardiff Metropolitan University, Kilsby Williams, Darwin Gray, Santander and Effective Communication.