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British airports wring the rent from forex operators

Market Watch
An investigation has accused British airports of profiteering from bureau de change operators, with many forced to sell euros at rates far above the market
British airports have been accused of ramping up the rent on bureau de change counters; forcing inflationary rates that don't mirror market norms

An investigation has accused British airports of profiteering from bureau de change operators, with many forced to sell euros at rates far above the market

British airports and bureaux de change desks have been accused of ‘ripping off’ travellers by setting rates significantly higher than the market. This allegation comes as airports are collecting record levels of rent from bureaux de change operators and signing expensive deals to secure operator exclusivity.

According to an investigation by The Times, passengers at many British airports are paying for euros at a rate that is, on average, 13 percent worse than the market. The investigation suggests travellers may be better off purchasing at European airports where profit margins are a quarter lower on average than their British counterparts.

The high rents imposed by airports [on bureau de change desks] limit the profitability of the companies that run them

While airports do not set the rates of their bureau de change operators, they do have a significant effect on pricing through the rent they charge. Rents have been pushed even higher through the establishment of exclusive operations deals. In July 2015, Travelex’s UK operations reported a loss of £3.4m ($4.3m) following the completion of an exclusivity deal with Heathrow. The company attributed the loss to increased rent.

These deals have proved highly profitable for airports like Gatwick and Heathrow: last year, the total combined rent they charged bureau de change operators was £76m ($95.3m), a 20 percent increase on profits two years ago. The deals come as duty-free shopping stagnates, having increased only 1.5 percent over the same period.

Despite the elevated rates found at airport bureau de change desks, the high rents imposed by airports limit the profitability of the companies that run them. As reported by The Times, last year the chief executive of MoneyCorp said airport bureau de change desks are not lucrative: “We make very little money in the airports, they are largely a big rent bill for us.”

However, despite the steep rent and substantial competition from online-only operators, currency traders are still keen to maintain a presence in airports thanks to the high turnover they provide. While travellers may be far better off using online services or local high street branches, there will always be a demand from people who have left changing their currency to the last minute.

 

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