TURKEY. Major global hub airports of the Gulf are losing market share of transit passengers to Turkey’s Istanbul Atatürk Airport, according to latest seat-booking data from analyst ForwardKeys. Transit passengers are a crucial segment to duty free and travel retail sales.

ForwardKeys’ data for Q1 2018 showed that bookings for passengers connecting in Istanbul are +21% ahead year-on-year. Equivalent transit bookings through Dubai and Doha’s Hamad International airports are marginally down at -0.5% and -0.1% respectively. Abu Dhabi International Airport has seen the biggest slide of -14%.

“The decline [in Abu Dhabi] is reflective of Etihad reducing capacity and dropping its partnership strategy,” noted ForwardKeys.  In terms of the relative size of transit business, Istanbul is bigger than Abu Dhabi but a quarter the size of the three major Gulf airports combined.

Istanbul’s growth is partly due to the success of specific routings including New York and Los Angeles to Tel Aviv; San Francisco to Delhi; London to Antalya; Hamburg to Antalya; and Frankfurt to Tehran.

ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager said: “In addition to the success of various routes, Istanbul’s growth has been helped by a reduction in terrorist incidents in Turkey since 2015, when a wave of bomb attacks hit both Istanbul city and the airport.”

From a nationalities perspective, the most significant increases in transiting traffic at Istanbul Atatürk are from Russia where bookings are +70% ahead of Q1 2017. Followed by the USA at +52%, the UK (+30%), Germany (+35%), India (+17%), and China (+5%).

The duty free and travel retail offer at Istanbul Atatürk, run primarily by ATÜ Duty Free, should benefit from the extra connecting passengers in Q1. Additionally, on 29 October, Istanbul New Airport is set for its official opening. Gebr Heinemann and Unifree Duty Free are developing a large retail operation at what will eventually be a six-runway hub serving 90 million passengers in its first phase.

Jager paid tribute to Hamad International for maintaining its transit volumes “in the face of a diplomatic spat with its neighbours, which saw Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE close their airspace to Qatar Airways flights last June”.