May 2018: The rise of Italy’s underrated gem

The first Italian airport to be privatised in 1997, Naples International Airport continues to be a pioneer for regional airports, as Margherita Chiaramonte tells Chloë Greenbank.

All too often overlooked as a possible city break destination when compared with other Italian cities, Naples is currently enjoying its moment in the spotlight. Visitor numbers are on the up and Naples International Airport, which is managed by GESAC (Gestione Servizi Aeroporto Capodichino) is experiencing unprecedented growth in air passenger traffic.

“Airports Council International (ACI) featured Naples on its list of ‘Fast and Furious’ European airports for growth in the period 2012-2017,” says Margherita Chiaramonte, head of aviation business development at Naples Airport.

You just have to look at last year’s passenger figures – Naples Airport processed just shy of 8.58 million passengers in 2017, a 27% rise over 2016, making it the fastest growing airport in Italy – to see what all the excitement is about.

The increase in passenger traffic also means that the city is finally getting the attention it deserves, admits Chiaramonte as she describes Naples’ mix of ancient history and cultural traditions combined with its very modern aesthetic as a “magical blend.”

Next week (14-16 May) the airport, alongside the city, will host ACI’s Regional Airports Conference and Exhibition. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase Naples Airport to our colleagues managing other regional airports in Europe. It will also highlight everything this beautiful city has to offer and its potential as a city break destination,” Chiaramonte concedes.

Profitable, sustainable growth

Destined for a career in aviation and specifically at Naples Airport, Chiaramonte reveals how her father was a Colonel in the Italian Air Force and spent the latter part of his career based in Naples. “His office had a great view over the runway,” she recalls, “so watching planes take-off and land formed a large chunk of my childhood memories.”

Having completed a Masters in Tourism Management, Chiaramonte was given a four-month internship at Naples Airport in 1998.

“When I completed the internship, they offered me a job in the marketing department and I’ve stayed at the airport ever since, although my role has obviously changed.”

Her team (she works with two others) is small but perfectly formed. “Our job is to grow the airport’s network of destinations and the number of passengers in a manner that is profitable, but sustainable,” she says. One of her team is responsible for analysing new routes and traffic developments, while the other looks after marketing and the promotion of air services, as well as liaising with air carriers and the local tourist board.

“We analyse emerging business opportunities all the time,” she admits. “Whenever we see a business case with potential we will approach the target airlines to show why Naples is the best option. We are also responsible for promoting our air services in the catchment area, so we co-operate a lot with airlines to boost passenger demand on Naples flights.”

Expanding the route network

Connectivity has undoubtedly played an integral role in the evolution of the airport. “In the past four years, route development and international passenger growth have been at the top of the agenda when it comes to our business objectives,” concedes Chiaramonte.

To achieve these goals, the airport has adopted an aggressive marketing strategy targeting the main carriers in Europe (primarily the big low-fare carriers). This has not only resulted in Naples doubling the number of direct routes it offered between 2014 and 2017, but it has also attracted both easyJet and Ryanair to establish bases at the airport.

“Last year, 63% of our passengers flew with LCCs, while the remaining 37% flew with traditional carriers,” Chiaramonte says, adding that the airport’s top five carriers in terms of passenger traffic are easyJet, Ryanair, Alitalia, Volotea and Lufthansa. But, she asserts that there are some exciting new routes in the pipeline, with Aeroflot due to start a daily Naples-Moscow service in July this year. She also divulges that the airport is focused on improving its seasonality profile. “Primarily we incentivise services to international, unserved routes, preferably year-round ones, as we want to reduce the seasonality of the airport.”

To further incentivise airlines and enhance the overall passenger experience, the airport plans to double its cargo operations by expanding the cargo building as well as improve its car rental facility by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, by 2022, surface access to the airport will also be drastically improved with the airport being incorporated as a stop on the main line of the city’s underground system, “which will not only enhance accessibility of the airport from the city centre, but also the whole region,” Chiaramonte enthuses.

Strategic development

Focusing efforts on boosting inbound tourist traffic is also key to the airport’s long-term strategic development.

“We have been proactively enouraging tourism in Naples,” says Chiaramonte, “by working alongside key stakeholders from the local tourism industry (from both public and private sectors), to promote Naples as a city break destination.”

Citing the importance of social media and digital marketing, Chiaramonte explains that the airport was behind an initiative to invite a group of travel influencers (including top bloggers) from around Europe to spend the weekend in Naples, so that they could experience the city for themselves and provide an honest account to their followers.

“They published their stories and reviews on their blogs and social media, which generated plenty of positive feedback from hundreds of thousands of followers.”

Partnership is key

Another initiative the airport is undertaking is to create a ‘regional airports system’ with the currently under-developed Salerno Airport on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

“Salerno Airport’s infrastructure is currently unable to handle commercial traffic,” explains Chiaramonte. “Big investments are needed to make the runway and the whole airport infrastructure viable for future operations. A regional airport system with the two airports under one umbrella would be the optimum scenario,” she continues, before pointing out that it would be environmentally beneficial as well.

“With air traffic demand growing at an unprecedented pace, Naples has the opportunity to play a leading role. A regional airports system would be a great way to optimise the use of local infrastructures and lay the foundations to handle the forecasted growth of air transport demand in our region.”

It would also of course be an effective way to boost inbound tourism as well as the region’s economy over the next 20-30 years…

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