Sarah Spinosa
Manager, Meetings Marketing
American Association of Airport Executives

Sarah Spinosa is the Manager, Meetings Marketing for the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE). Sarah is responsible for developing and managing all marketing for AAAE’s nearly 80 annual domestic and international meetings, workshops, trainings, and conferences.

Sarah has worked in association sales and marketing for the majority of her career, since moving to Washington D.C. in 2008. Sarah earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania in 2007, and is a member of the American Marketing Association and the American Society of Association Executives.

AAAE Annual Conference & Exposition in San Diego Focuses on Innovation
Mukesh Buch
Jan 25, 2018

Can you give a brief overview of AAAE? How has the event evolved over the years?

Founded in 1928, the American Association of Airport Executives is the largest professional organization in the industry. It represents about 875 airports and authorities. We focus on representation in Washington, D.C. and we provide a wide range of services and professional development opportunities through trainings, meetings and conferences. Also, we do have an accreditation program.

We represent all airport employees. we expect around a 10% increase in attendance, and had 261 airports in attendance last year. Our members work in various roles in airports across the country. Each year we hold approximately 80 domestic and international meetings, workshops, trainings and conferences. Through these events, we bring our members and attendees the latest and greatest in the industry, including the newest technologies and regulations.

We make great effort to bring new products and services and to attract the most exhibitors in the industry, thus giving attendees the opportunity to solve all their challenges right on the exhibit hall floor.

How many members do you have?

We currently have 6,060 members, which include airport employees, corporate partners, students, and those with related industry interests, such as military/DOD/government.

Tell us about the conference this year?

The 90th Annual AAAE Conference & Exposition will be held from April 15 to 18, 2018 in San Diego, California. We do have some pre-conference events. There is a volunteer event on April 14th, where the attendees are invited to come and help us give back to the local community. Typically, we partner with the local Habitat for Humanity for the volunteer event.

The exhibit hall actually opens on April 15th with welcome reception and kickoff. Most of the educational sessions take place on April 16th, 17th and 18th.

Do you have a particular theme for the 2018 event?

Our theme, or our tag line, is “Experience Innovation – Let’s Go!” Our host this year, San Diego International Airport, has an Innovation Lab, which generates new ideas that can be applied not only in airports, but also in closely related industries.

Many of our attendees rely on the exhibit hall floor and the vendors to experience the new innovative solutions. The relationships they build at the conference are very important. They have the opportunity to learn from their peers, who have faced similar challenges at their airports. That’s why the theme is “Experience Innovation.”

What have been the themes in the recent past?

Last year in Long Beach, California, the theme was “A New Standard in Education” as we focused on the elevated standards for serving the passengers and even the local communities. The theme also referred to our elevated standards for providing the best possible service to our members.

In 2016 the conference was held in Houston, Texas, and the theme was “The Power to Connect.”

So, the theme changes every year. We decide the theme together with the host airport in a brainstorming session.

Who is the keynote speaker this year?

The keynote speaker for April 16, 2018, is Simon Sinek, a British-American author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant. He is known for writing “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Last.” He will be speaking about how to inspire people to be their best.

Founded in 1928, the American Association of Airport Executives is the largest professional organization in the industry. It represents about 875 airports and authorities.

What are the highlights of the educational tracks?

We have five main educational tracks – Safety and Security, Planning and Facility Management, Customer Experience, Innovative Finance, and General Aviation.

There are additional educational sessions that aren’t necessarily related to those tracks. They include sessions on diversity, accreditation, and security policy.

We also have Innovation Theaters on the exhibit floor. They represent an opportunity for our exhibitors to introduce the latest and greatest products to our members.

Could you briefly tell us about each educational track?

Within Safety and Security, the session on The Next Generation of Aviation Security will address airport security threats.

In Planning and Facility Management, there is a session on the impact of autonomous vehicles. Another session, Internet of Airport Things - Connected Airports: The Vision and Immediate Impacts, is about the vision of smart airports and how airports can advance to that next level.

Within Customer Experience, the topic of creating a customer-centric culture is quite important. It is about making sure that passengers are enjoying themselves and want to come back again and again to your airport.

The Innovative Finance tracks includes the session Public-Private Partnerships: The Future of P3s and How Private Investment is Impacting Airports. That’s going to be a heavily attended session as P3s are a huge topic in the airport industry.

The General Aviation track includes the session How To Keep Your Airport Competitive in the Challenging General Aviation Environment, which, I believe, is going to be a hot topic.

The additional educational track will cover diversity, some security topics, and will also explain our accreditation program.

How many speakers do you have for the sessions?

Typically, it depends on whether the session is a panel or an individual session, and that’s still in the planning phase. Last year it was mostly panels of three to five per session. There were 15 sessions on the tracks, and there was a non-track session as well.

Who are the sponsors of this year’s event?

One of the biggest sponsors is our mobile app sponsor RS&H. Hudson Group is sponsoring the keynote address of Simon Sinek. Austin Commercial is sponsoring our name badges and Michael Baker International is sponsoring the Relaxation Station.

Some other companies that have committed sponsorships for the event are Ricondo, C&S Companies, Woolpert and Yardi.

Who should attend this event? What is the benefit for members coming to this event?

The event is for anyone in the airport industry. It is the place to make contacts and build meaningful relationships, along with hours of education and resources to be experienced on the exhibit show floor.

The top five reasons for members to join are the professional development programs, the networking and training opportunities, the representation in Washington, the breaking news and industry updates, and the discounts on meetings, products and services.

Also, attendees can earn credits towards their continuing education. The 2017 event provided 24 credits in the AAAE Continuing Airport Management Education Unit (CEU) program.

What message do you have for the repeat and new attendees?

For the repeat attendees, there will be some exciting and innovative ideas on the show floor. And I definitely encourage those, who haven’t come before, to take the time and come. There is a justification letter, which outlines the value of the conference, and they can download and submit it to their supervisor.

I would also mention the fun events in addition to the educational sessions. Our Monday night event this year is going to be Night Out at Petco Park, so there will actually be some time away from the convention center to network, mingle and chat with the other attendees. And to enjoy a baseball game, of course.

Our Airport Tour is also very popular. This year it will be a tour of the San Diego International Airport.

What is the registration process and deadline?

The early registration deadline is January 12th and the second early registration deadline is March 2nd. After that, registration has on-site regular rates. The rate for a member registration is $715 before January 12th, $815 before March 2nd, and $905 afterwards and during on-site registration.

We do have a mobile application, so once someone registers, he or she can take a look at the exhibitors and plan the booth visits. They can also connect with other attendees and see the agenda of the day and the location. Once we have the information for the rooms, they can see the location for the session.

Attending the Airport Tour requires a little extra security. For the tour, attendees have to provide their driver’s license or the passport number and date of birth for security clearance in advance. They also need to bring their photo ID on the day of the tour.

This year we expect more than 2,000 attendees and probably around 200 exhibitors, or an increase of 4 or 5 percent.

What specific products or services would you highlight this year?

We focus mostly on passenger and airport management related issues, but we highlight a really broad range of services and products. They could be related to fuel management, food and beverage systems, baggage systems, conveyor systems, security and risk management, or air traffic control systems. We tend to have quite a few exhibitors focused on the operation side. It is highly likely that there will be someone on the show floor to address any need that an attendee has for the airport.

Who are the typical attendees? Do you have international audience as well?

We do attract some international attendees, but it is mostly a North American event. Last year we had 259 airports participating. There were 185 exhibitors and 1,898 industry professionals.

This year we expect more than 2,000 attendees and probably around 200 exhibitors, or an increase of 4 or 5 percent. San Diego is a beautiful location on its own and a relatively easy place to get to, so we definitely expect to see a good increase in the number of attendees.

Are there any particular topics of interest to airport executives this year?

One of the big topics is the disruption that services like Uber and Lyft cause on airports. Parking is a substantial part of the airports’ funding and revenue generation, so the sudden increase in the use of Uber and Lyft has quite an impact.

The other topic is general funding concerns, because often the airports are funded by the counties, the municipalities, or the state.

What are the benefits of being a member of your association?

By becoming a member, airport professionals get discounted rate for attending the conference. They also receive access to our communities, benefits and services that non-members don’t have available.

Becoming a member connects an attendee to the network of airport professionals and provides access to all the news and information that we collect and disseminate to our members.

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