Developing A New Concession Road Map with a Sense of Place By Nathalie Roemer and Susan Stiene, Optimas Management Group

The future in the concession business is so exciting and powerful, and it’s all at our fingertips.  It’s not just about airports, it can be any type of transportation hub.

Photo Credit Getty Images

Photo Credit

Figure 1 – San Francisco Ferry Terminal and Madrid Atocha Train Station


Knowing the cross section of your audience is the first place to start.  Obviously, you need to play to the largest demographic audience, but don’t forget the smaller audiences.

Figure 2 – Checking out the demographic profiles in your customer base


There are 3 pivotal pillars to a successful program.

The three pillars are:

  1. 1. Sense of Place
  2. 2. A Sense of Engagement
  3. 3. A WOW!

A roadmap is built on a multi-faceted plan to make a successful program. You can learn from other transit hubs like international cruise terminals, ferry ports and train stations or resorts or on board cruise ships. The roadmap helps you to itemize the ideas, to ensure you have covered them all.

But before you start, you need to be a LOUD voice at the planning table!  Don’t be left out.  Ensure the commercial area is a part of the experience, not an after- thought.

Let’s talk about how to create the 3 pillars and what they truly mean.

The First Pillar… A Sense of Place.


“You need to develop a Sense of Place.” Everyone has heard those words before, but few know how to achieve it.

A sense of place is not created by one single idea or action. Think about walking down your most iconic street in your hometown. All eateries and stores originating from your hometown will help, but there’s typically a mix of international and local brands. A mix will increase customer satisfaction, generating more sales. There is something for everyone. Some passengers want to see and experience new eateries, new specialty stores and new entertainment. Others like the safety of a known brand – some like international brands, some like artisans.

But it’s not JUST about the stores and restaurants. A sense of place is a combination of local architecture, local experiences, local food, souvenirs and local culture through art and music. It’s a combination of your senses coming together in your surroundings.

The terminal could have visual art displays representative of the city’s art scene accompanied by local food and retail offers. While new and modern uses of steel and glass can be found in many terminals, they may lack unique character. Many elements for which cities are known, such as the historical and modern architecture depicting history and local neighborhoods, local music, local natural foliage, and the colors that are prominent in your town, supplemented with water features and/or lighting provide an opportunity to further define a “sense of place”. When people are inspired by their surroundings, and are enjoying themselves in a stress-free environment, they tend to spend more. It is important to recognize that a sense of place is not simply achieved by inserting local offers in restaurants and shops, but is achieved by framing elements that together define the location you are in.

This picture of Venice gives you a sense of being in Venice. Yet, you are in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

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Figure 3 – Venice in the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas


The shops and restaurants need to provide the customer with what they want or need, not just to depict the home city.  That’s why it is best to supplement the “feel or character of the place” with local flavors and international brands.  You can further create the character by creating the sense of place through base building attributes like characteristic wood or stone pillars, colored or symbolic floor surfaces or painted, paneled or muraled walls.  These characteristics should be present in and outside of the shops, restaurants and services.

The painted mural of the city you are arriving in, gives you excitement to think about and anticipate while waiting for your baggage.  You begin to dream about how you will enjoy your first visit to the city, or the comfort of coming home.

Figure 4 – Arriving in Venice Airport


Remember it’s not just about the departure experience.  Yes, you want people to remember their time in your city, but you also want to woo them on arrival.

The Second Pillar is Engagement.


Engaging with your customers makes them feel good, important, and likely comfortable. It’s all about talking with someone who can either help or provide you with a service that makes you feel good inside.

Enjoying technological solutions that make your experience that much easier and entertaining. An example of this is the Rebecca Minkoff store, a high-end clothing designer, in New York. She offers the opportunity to see what the outfit will look like on you, without taking a stitch of clothing off.

The business traveler who goes into the electronic store and is recommended to purchase a new tool that will help her accomplish more with her daily office routine will save valuable time.

While the mother and father with 3 rambunctious six-year-old children will enjoy the McDonald’s and play area, to occupy the kids, and make their trip less stressful.

The sounds of music or rushing water will help to take the stress out of the traveler who doesn’t like flying or has had a really bad morning. This experience will be appreciated and remembered.

A fellow business traveler who meets a great network contact, while enjoying a glass of local wine in a wine bar, makes that time spent at your airport, pleasant, and creates a memory.

An airport information clerk or a shop clerk or waiter can also change a typically benign airport just get me from this place to where I need to go as quickly as possible to and enjoyable encounter that is remembered and talked about with friends or business associates in years to come.

If a traveler receives service that is far beyond their expectations, it creates a memory and is likely shared with others through the years. This type of service usually results in loyalty. Loyalty to fly through your airport or visit your store. The traveler likely wants to be blessed with the same service and to share with others as an affirmation.

The First Pillar… THE WOW!


The memory of the The WOW can be present in the check in areas, the Immigration Zones but don’t forget, it needs to be present in the Commercial Zone to create a financial return.

This is the area that will give you the biggest payback. If you develop the memories in this zone, you will likely generate more sales resulting in more rent. The more rent the airport makes likely translates into more sales and profit for concession operators and, higher customer satisfaction for the passenger. The more all business partners make, the more each of them can spend to continually update the environment, so that there is always something new to experience and remember.

THE WOW is sometimes a store that you haven’t seen anywhere else like Amazon Go, a new retail concept in the U.S. where you enter the store, pick up what you want, and the item is automatically charged to your credit card through your app, without the need to scan and pay. It’s quick, easy and takes no time…frankly it’s likely a memorable experience.

Or it’s entertainment that made you de stress and enjoy yourself, or an unexpected experience with someone you met for the very first time.

The great experience may also be the new restaurant that serves you a great meal, or the new retail store, that has just what you need for a gift.

All of these, result in forming a memory that sticks with the passenger and is shared with likely 6 or 7 other future travelers, who will want to travel through the airport.

The memory is also a WOW. Wow’s can be created through elaborate architectural elements like the beautiful Jewel Water Zone in Singapore Changi Airport.

Photo Credit

Figure 5 – The Jewel at Singapore Changi Airport


But they also can be achieved through excellent customer service, where an employee makes the voyage easier, and makes one feel better than they did before the encounter.

When your child gets their face painted and they feel so good.  This is an unexpected experience that brings pleasure, both to the child and the parent who naturally loves to see their child smiling.

The key is to keep creating those memories and WOWS.

Transit hubs are kinetic places and leading hubs that must continue to evolve and project Sense of Place, Engagement and WOW during the customer’s journey, to drive Value and Revenue…

Photo Credit

Figure 6 – Singapore Changi Airport


The road map needs to include Comprehensive Planning, A Common Vision, Great Partnerships, and a Memorable Experience.

To secure endorsement, just check out customer satisfaction results for airports and shops that deliver a sense of place, you will see that the sense of place and enjoyment usually results in the highest revenue to both the airport and the concession operator.  The top airports and shops in the world all provide a memorable experience.

So, keep creating those memories and WOWS.

In the wise words of Albert Einstein, it’s a reminder to us, that we cannot stand still and be complacent.  An airport’s commercial program must be unique to engage customers and the program must continue to evolve.  Just when you think the program is complete, another airport or concession operator is doing something different.

Photo Credit Flickr

“Life is like riding a bicycle.
To keep your balance,
you must keep moving.”
– Albert Einstein

So, keep pedaling!

Who knows what shops and airports will come up with next, but we are sure that the outcome will be memorable and continually evolving!

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