Express Catering eyeing regional airports
...readies brands for general Jamaican market
With projections pointing to an uptick in tourism across the Caribbean, airport concessionaire Express Catering Limited (ECL) is looking to set up shop in other local and regional airports, noting that Ian Fleming Airport in St Mary is the most current prospect.
This was revealed by CEO Ian Dear during the company’s annual general meeting held Wednesday, January 17, at the Margaritaville Caribbean’s boardroom in Montego Bay, St James.
“ECL is continuously looking at opportunities outside of its existing facilities, and that certainly include other airport opportunities both locally and regionally. So Ian Fleming [International Airport] is one of the consideratons that we’ve looked at,” he told shareholders.
Though Dear shared that the ECL team has expressed an interest, and is now in discussions with the Airport Authority of Jamaica to create food service outlets at that airport, but that it was too early to determine what the potential of the negotiations is.
The Ian Fleming International Airport, which services the tourism area of Ocho Rios, began receiving weekly commercial flights from interCaribbean’s hub in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, in June 2022. Come next month, on February 24, the airport will welcome its first flight from American Airlines.
Dear is however cautious about moving too quickly with investing into that airport, noting, “You don’t want to make much of a big investment too quickly. When we see it become more relevant in providing growth opportunities, we will consider investing there.”
With regard to airports in the region, Dear said that those negotiations, too, are also not far advanced.
“For the most part they’re still very early, but it’s something that we are constantly trying to push forward. But we are in dialogue about a number of different spaces and it just takes time. These things do not happen overnight,” he said, adding that when he engaged the managers of the Sangster International Airport it had taken about a year to conclude negotiations.
When asked by a shareholder if the company was considering offering its services to cruise ports given the rise in cruise passengers, he said that such an undertaking is not the type of business model that ECL had in mind, but was open to considering it in the future.
In the meantime, the ECL CEO said that the company will be rolling out some of its brands into the general Jamaican market as it diversifies its target market away from inbound tourists.
“We are in a unique position because of the length and breadth of our offerings at the Sangster International Airport… The good thing about our business at the Sangster International Airport is that every single passenger that arrives, we have access to them, and while we don’t have every single offering for every single passenger, we have a very significant amount of offerings in that space on the arrival side,” Dear told the Jamaica Observer.
“With the advent of the type of increases that we’ve seen, 2023 has proven to be the best year in our history for arrivals into Jamaica, surpassing 2019, which was the benchmark year,” he continued.
For the year ended May 31, 2023, ECL earned revenues totalling US$21.2 million, which represents a 48.9 per cent increase over 2021, the highest revenues recorded in the company’s history. Dear credited this uptick to a 69.24 per cent rise in stopover tourist arrivals in his report.
When taking into account the projections of Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism for another record-breaking year for stopover arrivals, Dear anticipates that such a development can only bode well for ECL. In December, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said that more than one million people are expected to travel to the country from the US over the winter tourist season, with estimates showing an uptick of 13 per cent from a year ago.
“To date, 10 airlines have some 5,914 flights booked out of key US gateways to the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston between January and April 2024, adding to the flurry expected over the 2023 Christmas holiday period,” Bartlett explained then.
Commenting on the year-to-date performance of ECL, Dear noted, “So far, 2024 is ahead of 2023, so the projections that the minister in the Ministry of Tourism has outlined to us is very much in that direction. As a result, because we actually provide all of the food and beverage on the departure side out of the airport, we stand to benefit tremendously.”
THE ECL CEO also highlighted two trends that have augured well for the growth of the airport concessionaire business, especially as the airport undergoes expansion.
“Because of the expansion of the airport and the way traffic has been reallocated, we have seen a consumption that exceeded what we enjoyed before, and that is shown in the spend per passenger outlined in our numbers. So not only are we seeing more traffic, but we are seeing more spend per passenger and with the additional offerings that we are providing… we are definitely seeing an uptick in customer satisfaction and consumption,” he told the Caribbean Business Report.
For the six months since the end of its last financial year, the period ending November 30, 2023, ECL reported revenues of US$11.58 million, up 27 per cent year-over-year. Operating cost for the half-year totalled US$2.25 million or 21.6 per cent more than US$1.85 million generated in the same period in 2022.
This improvement in financial performance may be an impetus for further growth for the company as Dear shared plans to diversify the company’s target market from tourism to include the general Jamaican public.
“So our plan is to be very strategic with the services that ECL provides. We are looking at continuing our business model of captive spaces — airport type of models — but in addition to that we are looking to expand into the general marketplace with some of our brands. In this year, what we will be endeavouring to achieve is to provide some of those experiences on the arrival side of the airport to see what the local take-up is like, and once we have established that model, we will continue the expansion of those models into Jamaica,” he revealed.
When asked what brands the company will roll out, he listed Auntie Anne’s Pretzel, Cinnabon, and a “chicken concept”.