On 6th April 2021, Istanbul Airport will mark two years since the “Great Move”. Since opening, the airport has welcomed more than 10 new airlines and pre-COVID was connected with over 300 destinations, with a throughput of 69 million in 2019.
“Our first priority is as fast a recovery as possible,” says Kadri Samsunlu, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, iGA Airport Operation. “I call 2021 a year of ‘normalisation’ – I will be very happy if we reach 50-60% of 2019 levels this year. I’m expecting a much stronger recovery in 2022, because the vaccine rollout will be much wider globally. We need a couple of years to return to 2019 levels and will reach our 100 million target five to seven years from today.”
Post-COVID, he describes route development as having even higher importance. “Airlines and airports need to develop very close cooperation. We have established an international route development team and our aim is to be close to our airline partners, working as trusted advisors to develop their business at our airport and highlight our untouched potential.”
Boosting transfer traffic between Asia and Africa a big focus
Samsunlu identifies some key white spots. Istanbul Airport does not have any direct flights to Australia, while unserved destinations in Asia and Africa are also being targeted. “From Asia to Africa, currently we see 78% of total passengers travelling with at least one-stop between the two regions. With our perfect geographical location, we will be looking to boost the transfer traffic between Asia and Africa via Istanbul Airport. Despite over 50 direct routes from our hub, our market share of total transfer between Asia and Africa is less than 5%. This is a big focus area for us.”
Increasing Asia-Europe traffic a key goal for ‘China Friendly’ IST
Meanwhile, Asia-Europe is a large volume market of over 100 million annual passengers, with half of traffic at least one-stop. “Our market share for transfer of this large volume is around 11%. Therefore, we are looking to increase the flow between the two continents and working on new routes with our home carrier and foreign carriers.”
A key goal is “to increase the number of Chinese airlines and passengers coming to Istanbul Airport” and “to create a network where Chinese passengers travelling to Europe can use Istanbul Airport as a transfer point”. “Every year there are 15 million Chinese travellers to Europe. Turkey has only 400,000, which corresponds to 3% of total Chinese tourism flow to the continent – that’s very low,” says Samsunlu.
Significant efforts have been made to enhance the experience of Chinese travellers, resulting in Istanbul Airport achieved ‘China Friendly Airport’ status last September. “We would like our Chinese guests to talk about the unique experience they had at Istanbul Airport, how they have felt at home in a way that would contribute to our country’s tourism.”
In terms of unserved potential, Samsunlu describes Australia as the big opportunity. “It is a high priority for us to connect Istanbul Airport with Australia and provide access for Australian travellers to 40+ Turkish destinations and 120+ European destinations via IST. This is the only continent that Turkish Airlines doesn’t fly to.”