Catchy Concessions

What do Irish pubs, gourmet cupcakes, spas with styling salons and pet boarding facilities have in common? They are all ways airports can build revenue, increase consumer confidence, and compete in an increasingly competitive market

Consumer confidence is the benchmark of an economy’s growth, and the same is used when measuring airport concessions’ success. From branding with famous chefs and local appeal, to services like walking paths and upscale pet boarding, airport concessions are making a statement in consumer confidence, and it’s a big one. It’s a way to build revenue, but also consumer loyalty and following in today’s competitive market.

John Reeb, a senior principal property manager at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), says airports are not quite at the stage where they are selling the destination, but that is coming. Frequent fliers know which airports have certain amenities, and with more people booking their own flights, “if they know their favorite steakhouse is at Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, they will book through Atlanta,” he says matter-of-factly.

John Greer from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) agrees. This assistant director of Concessions and Business Development reports the industry is definitely heading in that direction, and on some levels, is already there.

To become the airport of choice, branding is playing a large role in developing an attractable and sustainable concessions program. But it needs to be balanced with maintaining the regional flair travelers expect when passing through their favorite cities.


Local Branding Pays

Branding is hot in today’s airport concessions, says Reeb. From famous chefs like Cat Cora to high-end designers, such as Michael Kors, names sell. In 2004, his San Francisco airport moved from 30 years of a master concessionaire model to direct leasing with local restaurateurs. “We went to a quality program rather than the cookie-cutter, snack bar, traditional one,” he explains.

And in the first true year-to-year comparison (2003 versus 2006), concessions’ revenue jumped nearly 112 percent, he adds.

Airports in areas known for their local cuisine can capitalize on that, Reeb notes. SFO’s home run came with its Napa Farms Market, the centerpiece of Terminal 2’s food program. This spin-off from the city’s Ferry Building Marketplace offers passengers a place to grab a last-minute bottle of wine, fresh produce or quick bite as they head out of town. Local Food Network Chef Tyler Florence has a stand in the market, as does a local wood-fired pizza place. Gourmet cupcakes and organic coffee put the frosting on the cake for this first-of-its-kind airport concession. “It has been a huge success,” says Reeb. “The first month it was open they had no idea how successful it would be. The market was running out of stock by Noon, which was a good problem to have.”

Local branding runs even stronger at SFO. Perry’s, a long-standing bar and grill in the city, and the city’s famous Buena Vista Café, serve passengers a local experience as well as good food. Brewer Gordon Biersch brings its renowned beer and garlic fries to the facility.

“If you’re able to bring in recognizable concepts that people will gravitate toward, it generates more revenue, but also a perceived quality and value,” Reeb explains.


Know Thy Customer

An Irish pub is being built at Miami International Airport (MIA). Adrian Songer, MIA chief of Aviation Business and Revenue Development, says he didn’t come up with the idea; the owner of its Cuban restaurant did.

While MIA is well-known for its Latin flair through dining, shopping and décor, Songer says diversity remains an important element in airport concessions development. For example, Gate D8 will once again host British travelers this summer, and Songer explains there’s a profit to be made if Johnnie Walker and scones are available near the gate. “It’s worth the effort to tailor the concessions assortment to the destination people are traveling,” he says.

Songer adds it’s important to offer both quick-serve and sit-down restaurant choices. And there needs to be some variety in both. Some people want the known quality of a Wendy’s, while others prefer the regional flavor of its Cuban restaurant, Kuva. “Success comes with a blend and balance,” he says.

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