Consider the new joys that could greet you on future road trips.
You clear security through Miami International Airport, stroll toward the gate and find tourists pumping quarters into rows of flashing, beeping slot machines. Sort of like the Seminole Hard Rock without clouds of cigarette smoke and scantily clad cocktail servers.
Something odd on the public address system catches your ear on the walk through the Anheuser-Busch terminal at Lambert-St. Louis International. Is that an ad for Airborne, the herbal formula touted to ward off colds in germ-infested public places?
Just last week, airport officials floated these ideas to shore up sagging finances. Expect more to come.
With airline passenger traffic down about 10 percent, airports are hurting. The decline means less cash from nearly all their biggest money-makers: restaurant and retail sales, parking (off 18 percent at Tampa International in May) and car rentals.
Airport executives have found novel ways to juice up their bottom lines for over decade. Dallas-Fort Worth International sells energy companies leases to drill natural gas. New retail and dining concepts — cell phone battery chargers, wine bars and massage stations — abound.
Advertising is everywhere. Portable signs pitching Under Armour athletic wear greet Boston Logan Airport travelers at baggage claim during the marathon. Ads for Zappos shoes have adorned the bottom of bins at security checkpoints.
The strategy works like this: raise more money from new business partners and hold down fees charged to airlines. That brings more carriers, more flights and more destinations for local travelers. Tampa International played the game expertly.
Such "non-aeronautical revenues" make up $3 out of every $4 in airport revenue. It's a big reason low-cost king Southwest came to the airport in 1996 and rapidly expanded. (St. Petersburg-Clearwater International charges even lower airline fees, thanks to business leases on airport land.)
Tampa International cranked up ad revenue with a new Busch Gardens deal. The attraction bought an eye-catching photo "wall wrap" and video screens along escalators that carry passengers down to baggage claim. The cost: $2.9 million over five years, split between the airport and its advertising sales firm.
But Tampa International boss Louis Miller says some of the new revenue ideas go too far. He's not interested in slots or naming terminals for corporate giants. Ads over the public address system or hosts handing out product samples would be too grating on busy travelers.
And if you're a gambler who can't wait to unpack before laying a bet? Try Carren International … in Vegas, of course.
Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.