Airport refutes findings on concessions disclosures by GSU economist

By David Pendered

A statement released by Atlanta’s airport refutes findings by an economist at Georgia State University concerning the amount of information that’s readily available about the concessions trade.

The study by Bruce Seaman found that Atlanta’s airport is less transparent than other North American airports in revealing details of its concessions business. Passengers could be affected if some quality concessionaires decide the lack of information is enough to keep them from trying to open shop at the airport, Seaman said.

The airport’s statement contends that the airport does release large amounts of information about its concessions trade, and it urges researchers and the media to accurately report available information. Click here to read the previous story.

The statement, dated Aug. 8, does not appear to be posted with other news releases in the “Newsroom” section of the airport’s website. Nor does it appear to be available elsewhere on either the airport’s or the city’s web sites.

The airport’s statement begins with the following paragraph:

“Contrary to recent media reports on an independent study conducted by an economist with Georgia State University, officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport consistently have released extensive amounts of data pertaining to airport concessions, particularly regarding the concessions requests for proposals (RFPs) in progress.”

The statement says that more than 100 proposals have been received from companies that want a piece of the concessions trade at Atlanta’s airport, which is the world’s busiest passenger facility. The amount of interest in concessions deals that are to finalized this autumn bodes well for passengers, according to the statement.

The statement noted that more than 500 potential proponents for a concessions contract attended related conferences that were held Jan. 19 and April 5.

“During these two open houses, comprehensive presentations noted that even more information was available on the airport and the city of Atlanta websites, and presenters answered dozens of questions,” the statement said. “Detailed financial and industry data were included in the draft and final concessions RFPs, which were available online from December 2010 until the proposal due date last month.”

The statement says that airport officials have released detailed financial information, and that much information is available in a trade publication: “Airport Revenue News Fact Book.”

The statement continues:

“Just as the airport is obligated to continue its fair, honest, ethical and transparent concessions RFP process and to make information publicly available, researchers and the media are responsible for accurately reporting on the information that is readily available to them.”

Seaman began his response to the city’s rebuttal of his findings by outlining the scope of his report, which is almost 40 pages long.

Seaman said he had examined issues including “the overall revolution in airport concessions programs, airline passenger and frequent flier demographics, airport visitor buying habits, a comparative analysis of different models of concessionaire management models, a description of the debate about the developer model of airport concessions, trends in local vs. national branding, and the role of technology and social media in creating opportunities as well as challenges for concessionaires.”

Seaman then stuck by his findings concerning transparency in disclosure of concessions financial data:

“The information available at the city Department of Aviation website includes information about city revenues from Hartsfield-Jackson concessions, but no detailed information about gross sales or any breakdown of such sales by concourse, type of concession business, or individual concession business.

“The on-line ‘Concession Brochure’ posted as part of the solicitation process for ATL [Atlanta’s airport] did not itself contain any useful information on sales, sales per passenger, sales per square foot, sales by type of concession or sales by airport location.

“Other airports’ publicly available similar concession solicitation documents have provided various types of such information.  The ‘Airport Revenue News Fact Book’, which is widely cited in the full report, is only a partial substitute for more detailed information provided by individual airports.”

Atlanta’s airport is in the midst of what the city says is one of the largest procurements in the history of North American aviation. The city intends to hire private companies to operate 27 retail shops and 125 food and beverage locations.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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