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Airport Concessions Programs Becoming High-Tech

top story photo Airport concessions programs are evolving to satisfy a technology-savvy traveler who buys less print media, opts for the latest in electronic devices, and demonstrates an increasing awareness of the value of sustainable products and services, according to industry experts on the "Hot Ideas, Cool Trends in the World of Retail Concessions" panel at AAAE's Annual Conference and Exposition in Phoenix.

Speaking at the Monday session, Gerry Savaria, president and CEO of LS Travel Retail, described marketing to today's mobile device-equipped traveler as "catering to the M crowd." This means that, "With digital components, consumers can be in an airport and still shop online without shopping in the airport itself," he told delegates. "To reverse that trend, we need to engage with consumers wherever they are." Store concepts are facing shorter lifecycles, and brands and marketers are reaching out to the travel retail consumer instead of waiting for the traveler to discover them, he noted.

To keep pace with this rapidly changing sales environment, Savaria said his company is developing concepts such as a strong "convenience" offering, in one instance partnering with 7-11 to create an airport store. His company also has used "pop-up retail" to allow the concept to be moved if conditions change. This involves opening kiosks that can be open 24 hours a day and can be moved within the airport if marketing conditions change.

Paul Brown, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International's director of concessions, described aspects of the airport's retail program that he said are either concepts new to his airport, concepts new to airports in general, or concepts unique to airports. Atlanta's new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal and its 12-gate concourse, set to open May 16, will include the shops Spanx and MAC Cosmetics, which are new to airports, he said. Unique to airports will be Touch Table, an electronics boutique.

Among the lessons learned in the development of Atlanta's existing concessions program is the realization that airports need to "stay ahead of the curve" with electronics stores. He cited the example of the airport's two Blackberry stores and noted that the company is changing its focus away from consumers and marketing on a business to business level. As a result, Atlanta will develop a store that combines electronic needs, including parts, he said.

Brown also cautioned airports to be wary of "naming stores after people." He pointed to the airport's Sean John store, saying the luster of the concept is dimming because the hip-hop artist after whom the store is named "isn't performing, so the store isn't either."

Andrew Weddig, senior vice president of Unison Consulting, stated that consumers are increasingly aware of the sustainability process. This is a trend that will continue, he predicted, and "going green" will provide dividends for concessionaires through cost savings in the long run and the ability to offer better, more popular choices to travelers.

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