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Eli Lejeune: ‘Eindhoven Airport is small, and small is the new big’

Eindhoven Airport: 'Always Easy'

You generally don’t think of airports as “fun” and “laid back,” but Eindhoven Airport – unlike the Frankfurts and Gatwicks of the world – actually is fun and laid back.

Arriving passengers can literally park a few meters from the terminal and within sight of the aircraft themselves.

If you arrive early, you can chill at the outside seating in front of the Starbucks. (Imagine that at Frankfurt.)

Inside the terminal, you notice something is missing … even at the peak of the tourist season, there’s no mad dash of panicky passengers departing or arriving in this jewel box of an airport, which just added two new gates.

This is all by design, with the goal of staying the easiest airport in the Netherlands to negotiate. The airport’s slogan is even “Always Easy.”

Always Easy

Passengers “don’t want a hassle … they just want an easy airport. That’s what we’re aiming for as a company,” said Eli Lejeune, Marketing Manager for Eindhoven Airport.

Of all the major innovation centers in the world, Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands lays claim to most unmet potential. That starts with the city’s ultra-high-tech, low-profile business culture, and extends to its airport, which already is a discount hub for vacationers.

The executives who run Eindhoven Airport know they’re sitting on a major asset nowhere near its potential. Moreover, airport management sees the 30,000-strong expat community as an increasingly important customer base as global tech giants based here, such as ASML, expand globally.

Revolutionary companies such as Tesla, which has a factory nearby in Tilburg, also have discovered the region.

What makes Eindhoven so attractive is its convenience as a small regional airport, though it’s the second-largest in the Netherlands, as well as the fastest growing.

It’s all about customer experience

The first thing American expats tend to notice is that compared to those in the U.S., European airports are fun. American airports, run by airport authorities, tend to be “brown floors, brown carpets,” Lejeune said.

European airports, which are typically private/public partnerships, have lots of interesting retail. Lots of restaurant choices and usually food markets.

Which is why Eindhoven is a small airport with a large retail offering including a Victoria’s Secret store, cosmetics chain Rituals, Albert Heijn To Go supermarket and two coffee cafes. “Airports aren’t institutions anymore,” Lejeune said. “They’re brands … which you need to take care of and develop.”

And while Eindhoven’s main mission is to be the gateway to fun, it’s also a serious business with a serious advantage over larger airports.

The industry as a whole is under pressure as discount airlines shape the business model.

Airfares are dropping, so airlines are less willing to pay airports for landing rights, Lejeune said. Airports are focusing more on retail, developing their own brands and focusing on a higher spend per passenger.

Counter-intuitively, with low-cost airlines, the passenger spend is often higher than with full-fare airlines, Lejeune said. The assumption is that people who have less money are buying cheaper tickets and don’t spend at the airport. “It’s the exact opposite,” he said

“It’s psychological. ‘I had a cheap ticket, so now there’s more money for other stuff.’ “

The good thing about a regional airport is they’re less busy and people have more time to spend. The trick is to not let congestion make it more difficult for passengers to spend.

But as Eindhoven emerges as a global tech center, there are big plans to connect this southern city to the rest of the world.

Lejeune says Eindhoven Airport executives’ challenge is to “remain small while growing,” compact enough in the perception of the passenger, but “relevant” to a larger group of airlines with more destinations in Europe and outside Europe.

Today Europe, tomorrow the world

Today, Eindhoven can connect you to more than 75 destinations from Morocco to Latvia.

Tomorrow … the world. “More connectivity, more destinations and more airlines,” Lejeune said.

More regional airports are adding transatlantic routes. Discount airlines such as Norwegian, which flies from Cork, Ireland to Boston, and Iberia’s new Level discount airline are developing new transatlantic routes.

Ryanair, which is already a major Eindhoven tenant, is looking into teaming up with Aer Lingus for a flight to Dublin with continuing service to New York, Lejeune said.

“Ryanair … they’re tough negotiators, but we are developing together. I’m sure if they would start a hub connection or a transatlantic flight, our airport would be one of the airports to start working with (them),” he said.

Ryanair is not alone. The trend is for discount airlines and regional airports to work together to create new routes. In fact, Eindhoven is holding an Aviation Summit from 25 October through 27 October with the goal of bringing route developers and other aviation industry players to see what they have. (See a related post here.)

This is in part due to Eindhoven officials goal to attract a hub destination.

Small is the new big

One of the missing pieces is a flight to Berlin. Just last week, industry website Anna Aero named Eindhoven-to-Berlin its “Skyscanner unserved route of the week” in conjunction with Skyscanner, a flight cost comparison website.

The post noted that Skyscanner’s Travel Insight software showed about 75,000 potential travelers searched Skyscanner for flights between Eindhoven and Berlin.

From the post:

“The reason for this demand, apart from the fact that Berlin is a key tourism destination in Europe, is that the German capital also has a strong hi-tech and start-up climate like Eindhoven and the North Brabant region,” says Dean Boljuncic, Head of Route Development at Eindhoven Airport. “A connection between the two would combine the best of both worlds: a business world connecting two strong business regions; and also a leisure world.” 

Anna Aero speculated Berlin might become Transavia’s 22nd destination from Eindhoven or easyJet’s second Dutch route from its Berlin Schönefeld base, and Lejeune agreed a Berlin flight is a top priority.

Eindhoven, which is owned in part by Schiphol Group, can’t compete directly with the giant Amsterdam airport. But in certain ways, it has greater growth potential simply because the “catchment” – the surrounding population from which it draws passengers – is larger than Schiphol, where a large portion of the catchment is in the North Sea.

Lejeune makes clear that Eindhoven will never be a second Schiphol with its massive parking garages, hotels, integrated train station and miles of gates.

Eindhoven will prosper by balancing simplicity and efficiency while increasing connectivity with more and better connections to Germany, the United Kingdom and overseas destinations.

“We’re small, and small is the new big,” Lejeune said. “Our challenge is to remain small while growing.”


Fun facts:

Carriers flying to and from Eindhoven include Ryanair, Wizz Air, Transavia and TUI fly. The 85 destinations range from Baltic cities including Riga, Latvia west to Morocco. Popular tourist destinations include Rome and Venice, Greece (Rhodes, Corfu and Athens), Barcelona and Ibiza, Lisbon, Malta and Stockholm.

• The efficacy of the airport is built on three pillars, Lejeune said: people, infrastructure and digital. To make sure Eindhoven Airport lives up to its “Always Easy” marketing campaign, officials constantly monitor 20 touch points, including speed of check-in, friendliness of airport employees, cleanliness, social media and ambiance, with 7,000 or 8,000 responses every six months.

•  Eindhoven Airport served about 4.7 million passengers in 2016. The airport is projecting traffic to grow by 1 million passengers to a total of 5.7 million in 2017.

Leisure travel accounts for 75 percent of traffic, and 25 percent of traffic is business-related.

• Lejeune is part of the airport team that was just awarded a Red Dot design award. Eindhoven Airport and Day Creative Business Partners received the award for the interior and branding of the newest gate area; the design reflecting “views over the Dutch landscape with geometric shapes and a fresh colour palette.” You can read the full news release here. Entries came from about 50 countries.

• Eindhoven officials are working on the Eindhoven Easy Mobile Assistant, or EEMA, a Web app that gives passengers information for their trip to the airport. EEMA tells you the optimal time to leave to make a flight; how busy roads are and whether the train would be faster and how busy the terminal is. “It takes you by the hand from your front door to the flight gate,” Lejeune said.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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