Making the most of a captive audience – Stuart Rough / by Broadway Malyan Admin


The financial challenges around the aeronautical sector are well versed as tariffs and legislation continue to push airports to look for increasingly innovative ways to maximise revenue.

In recent years retail has played an increasingly central role in an airport’s business strategy with those that have focused on maximising their offer where it can be most effective reaping the greatest rewards.

It is a strategy that makes perfect sense; the average dwell time for passengers in an airport is around 2.5 hours and understanding their behaviour patterns – and stress levels – as they move through the various stages of the airport process is key to exploiting the opportunity they represent.

Planning the sequence of offers is important to maximize the Captive Retail Zone – position ‘must buy’ products close to security and last-minute shopping at gates for those rushing for their flights – but so is the positioning of the Flights Information Display systems to communicate ‘time to the gate’ to aid the all-important relaxation process.

Walk through Duty Free stores are now standard across all airports but have become almost too gratuitous such as at one of London’s major airports where the forced route is probably slightly too long.

The world’s best airports are continually striving to improve their airside environments with airports and national airlines looking for the edge in this increasingly competitive sector. Ambitious and progressive cities often have airports to match and Asia is undoubtedly leading the way with Europe catching up although the Americas still lag some way behind.

Great global airports include Singapore Changi which offers a fantastic passenger experience and is continuing to improve its facilities as it grows and Hong Kong which has superb infrastructure and the convenience of a city centre check in. Amsterdam Schiphol is well designed with cool interiors as well as a library and a museum while Incheon Seoul boasts a cultural centre, an ice rink and even free showers. Istanbul Airport will set a new benchmark when it opens in 2018 with 53,000sqm of retail while Zurich Airport now boasts the largest shopping mall in Switzerland.

These mega-hubs are continuing to grow and improve and they are not just providing a service to passengers but offering a memorable experience that celebrates the host city or country and it is an investment that becomes self-fulfilling as they attract more operators, more connections and greater opportunities for revenue. However all this must be supported by efficiency and security and good and smooth connections.

When you look at an airport like Heathrow it is difficult to under-estimate the potential that retail and leisure presents. In 2014 Heathrow’s retail offer was worth around £500m to the airport and competition for pitches is undoubtedly fierce as operators strive to be part of a mix that now boasts some of the world’s most exclusive brands as well as two Michelin-starred restaurants.

For the operator the set up costs for retailers are likely to be higher than the traditional high street, but the footfall remains consistently high and spending tends to be more resilient.

As airports look to develop the right environment to maximise the Captive Retail Zone, the balance between luxury brands and essential goods is crucial but so is the quality of interior design, comfort, layout, positioning and flow.

Broadway Malyan completed a five year airside repositioning of Lisbon International Airport which involved an extension to the existing terminal building with a significant upgrade of its retail offer and public concourses.

When we were appointed it was clear that major work was needed to transform a very poor quality airport that had originally been a military base and that offered an unpleasant passenger experience with minimal comfort.

Our brief was easy to take on in terms of matching client aspirations but we had to plan and design to provide a game-changing experience and the result was an airport completely transformed.

Phase one was the food court and welcome retail space and the major decision here was to straighten the floors and remove difficult changes of level which provided a better flow and access for all.

We also decided early in the design process that we needed to provide a local feeling to the interior design and so we used a famous local ceramic tile as a design generator that we were able to use in various contemporary ways to identify spaces and places within each zone of the airport.

From a match of the original to exaggerating the scale of parts of its design into different features and on different materials such as glass, stone, ceramic and metal we transformed the passenger experience while retaining a distinctly Portuguese identity. 

We also managed to eliminate visual confusion and ‘noise’ through design control which allowed the shop fronts to show off rather than fight for attention with each other while opening up walls and ceilings to reintroduce natural light into the airport.

Since completing the project, which also included a major airside extension, the airport has attracted new carriers including Emirates with passenger numbers increased by 20 per cent while the 80 per cent increase in retail space is fully occupied with international brands new to Portugal such as Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Victoria’s Secret.

With air travel set to grow exponentially in the coming years, the opportunity is clear – with the right strategy, passengers become great customers.


These comments are based on a presentation given at the UKTI Airport Conference in Sao Paolo in October


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