UK. The Moodie Davitt Report Senior Business Editor Mark Lane recently attended the opening of Air-One, the world-first fully-operational hub for electric flying taxis and drones. He spoke to Urban-Air Port Chief Retail Officer Keith Hunter and Chief Hospitality Officer Nick Goddard-Palmer to find out how travel retail and F&B brands can get onboard with a revolutionary new form of environmentally-friendly travel.

When the world-first fully-operational hub for electric flying taxis and drones, Air-One, was unveiled in Coventry late last month by Urban-Air Port (UAP), few at the launch found themselves busier than the team appointed to drive the company’s retail, services and F&B offer.

A view of the retail pop-up area inside Air-One, including eye-catching displays from Anatomie and Paul&Shark

Non-aeronautical revenues will have a key role in the development of the fledgling urban air mobility (UAM) industry and the potential of the sector was clear to all who witnessed the opening of the ground-breaking vertiport.

“With the support of our new brand partners, Air-One has given us the platform to showcase what can be delivered in this new forum and really does open the door for a whole new world of retail and F&B” – Urban-Air Port Chief Hospitality Officer Nick Goddard-Palmer

Underlining the scale of the opportunity, UAP – which in January outlined plans for its first 200 vertiports – has predicted that global passenger numbers passing through its revolutionary infrastructure could reach up to 28 million annually in the next five years.

Aerial view of Air-One in the centre of Coventry, UK, with the image taken by a West Midlands Police drone

This bold prediction comes from just one company of many hundreds worldwide chasing the huge financial prizes that will undoubtedly reward the pioneers of commercialisation across various aspects of the UAM industry. On the vertiport side of this emerging travel sector, UAP currently sits in pole position.

UAP Chief Retail Officer Keith Hunter and Chief Hospitality Officer Nick Goddard-Palmer have already moved the commercial opportunity from a blank canvas into a fast-developing ecommerce venture under the banner of Urban-Air Choice. And not only that – they also succeeded in securing an impressive brand partner line-up, many well-known in the travel retail channel, to sponsor the Air-One launch.

Keith Hunter (left) and Nick Goddard-Palmer (right) talk to Mark Lane about how the urban air mobility industry will bring revenue opportunities to travel retail and F&B brands inside Air-One

Several of these brands had a physical presence inside the 4,300sq ft vertiport lounge, including pop-up clothing displays, a café and digital installations. That is solid evidence of why UAP’s work is attracting the attention of some prominent retail and F&B players

Among the initial supporters and sponsors at Air-One are travel fashion brand Anatomie, Bottega, Compass Eurest, LG Business Solutions, Mother, Paul & Shark, LG Electronics, Nestlé, Rituals and Henkell Freixenet. An array of companies of such stature investing in the earliest stages of the UAP journey is just the start, according to Hunter and Goddard-Palmer.

 Early view of pages in the Air-One app, which is currently under development for Urban-Air Port

The duo claim to be in discussions with scores of other brands to feature on the Urban-Air Choice app and to have a potential physical presence at future UAP vertiports. Dozens are understood to have signed Memorandums of Understanding. Many of these brands have instigated contact after reading about the potential of UAP and the UAM industry on The Moodie Davitt Report in recent months, according to Hunter.

We understand that there will be no exclusivity granted to any particular brand or service provider to offer certain types of products or services across the eventual network of UAP vertiports and on the Urban-Air Choice app. There is no limit to the number of brands which could get involved, according to UAP.

“Non-aeronautical revenues will be just as important to us, and other vertiport operators in this sector, as they are for stakeholders in the traditional aviation and mobility sectors. Transport is a very expensive business, and that has to be partially subsidised by other commercial revenues.” – Urban-Air Port Chief Retail Officer Keith Hunter

Goddard-Palmer, who brings many years of senior travel retail experience, including stints as CEO of Delhi Duty Free and Vice President of F&B at Qatar Duty Free for Qatar Airways to UAP, says: “With the support of our new brand partners, Air-One has given us the platform to showcase what can be delivered in this new forum and really does open the door for a whole new world of retail and F&B.”

VIP guests at the Air-One launch watch drone demonstrations alongside retail brand displays and the Urban-Air Café

Hunter says that beyond the Air-One public event period, which has been attracting up to 1,000 visitors a day and concludes on 15 May, he and Goddard-Palmer will be focusing much of their attention on developing the online customer engagement side of the business. This will involve further developing relationships with secured and onboarding brands.

“We will be focusing a lot of our time on the development of the Urban-Air Choice ecommerce platform,” says Hunter, who has both led and consulted on retail operations for major transport hubs and leisure brands including Alpha Airports Group, Warner Leisure Hotels and Qatar Airways Group. “We are already part of the way down the design and development road and we obviously have a strategy and a route to get that underway and completed.

F&B partner Compass Eurest is providing a high-quality service throughout the Air-One opening event, which runs to 15 May

“We’re also collaborating with each of the partners to make sure we incorporate all of their needs and requirements as well, linking their branded websites to the app. Collaboration is central to how we are going to make this work and bring ultimate pay-offs to the various partners.”

The Urban-Air Choice app will eventually enable travellers to plan their journey, buy from and engage with brands and services associated with it and seamlessly integrate with other forms of transport.

Guests at the launch event of Air-One saw live drone demonstrations. Drones like these will eventually carry products sold on the Urban-Air Choice app.

Goddard-Palmer says: “The app will go way beyond the usual brands that you would associate with travel retail. It will involve hotels, car hire companies, entertainment businesses, grocery deliveries and so on, so that the app is a one-stop shop.”

Picking up on this theme, Hunter adds: “The intention is to develop a sort of lifestyle concierge through the app. Everything you would normally associate with a travel experience but also your lifestyle requirements for those people on the move.

“It’s got to be very flexible and it’s got to be able to give the customers the ultimate control of what they browse, what they want, when they want it, how they pay for it and how they want to receive it. That’s why it’s an ecosystem that we’re after that can do everything within the Urban-Air Port sphere and beyond.”

Products from Henkell Freixenet and Bottega were available to guests via the Urban-Air Café

The plan is for purchases made through the app to be delivered to places including the office, home, or nearest pre-arranged collection point. Fulfilment will be via autonomous delivery drones – including those linked to UAP vertiport and drone infrastructure – which deliver purchases to a local hub for collection.

Goddard-Palmer believes that the Urban-Air Choice suite and app could ultimately be licensed to other aviation infrastructure developments, including traditional long-haul carriers/providers.

Asked how long it will be before brands can make money through the Urban-Air Choice platform, Hunter replies: “Our intention is to get it [the Urban-Air Choice app] up and running as soon as possible. It is not going to be quick, and it is certainly not going to be easy. Having said that, we will have the app ready for customer access well before the first Urban-Air Port vertiports host commercial operations. And then the payback should start coming quickly for associated brands.”

Products on display from travel fashion brand Anatomie inside the 4,300sq ft lounge in Air-One

Ecommerce will be a key aspect of UAP and its associated brand offer. A wide variety of opportunities exist inside the vertiport lounges, which should capture widespread interest. For example, most of the 200 vertiports currently being planned by UAP will involve an element of F&B, as well as physical and digital brand/retail showcases.

The Urban-Air Café at Air-One is run by Compass Group division Eurest, which might appear in other UAP vertiports. But as Goddard-Palmer and Hunter explain, there is a world of F&B opportunities to come which could involve multiple operators, both international and, where appropriate, local service providers.

“Working with Compass Eurest has been a great a test-bed for us, they’ve done a sterling job and we hope to develop that programme further,” says Goddard-Palmer. “Depending on how the future Urban-Air Port lounges are going to look and feel in different parts of the world, they may take on a totally different design, so it could just be a bar, a restaurant, or something else. Lounge formats are totally flexible and will be customised to the needs of the particular vertiport location.”

He adds: “Whichever F&B arrangements that are in place in different UAP airports, it’s really important to us to keep that quality level there, to the standards we have seen set at Air-One. There will be a benchmark that has to be hit to ensure that when you walk into an Urban-Air Port lounge, you receive the high standards that we expect to see associated with everything we do, whether that’s retail or F&B.”

During the Air-One opening event, Nestlé presented on sustainability and was also among the sponsors with products available through the Urban-Air Café

Hunter concludes by underlining the vital contribution commercial revenues will make to developing the global UAP business. “Non-aeronautical revenues will be just as important to us, and other vertiport operators in this sector, as they are for stakeholders in the traditional aviation and mobility sectors. Transport is a very expensive business, and that has to be partially subsidised by other commercial revenues.

“A major part of our role in driving the retail, services and F&B element of UAP is to create an ecosystem of stakeholders that can help us to achieve high ancillary revenues. We look forward to talking with many more brands and businesses to join us in generating and eventually sharing the proceeds of this side of our operations. It’s a very important part of the business case for operators in the UAM industry.”

Read our recent blog from the Air-One launch here. Keep an eye on our website for reactions from the travel retail brands that have been involved in the launch and an interview with Urban-Air Port Founder & Chairman Ricky Sandhu.

This article also appears in the latest edition of the Moodie Davitt eZine. Read the issue here.

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