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Creative Spaces: Airports Don't Need to Be Sheer Misery

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While Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving on Columbus day, Americans are just gearing up for this annual feasting ritual. We all know what that means -- one of the busiest travel days of the year is quickly approaching and many of us will face long waits in airports.

Airports are gateways to cities and for those who are new to a city, the airport provides a powerful first impression. A lot of attention has been paid to the design of their terminals -- think of Beijing's dazzling Terminal 3, more than five times bigger than all five of Heathrow's terminals put together, with its soaring tower and windowed ceilings; the bronze sea life inlays in the floor of Miami International Airport's North Terminal; the gorgeous bamboo ceilings in Richard Rogers spectacular Terminal 4 at Barajas Airport in Madrid; the iconic EeroSaarinen terminal at New York's JFK -- and there are a number of prestigious design and architectural awards that recognize them. But almost no one seems to pay much attention to the design of the concessions, which is strange, if you think about it, because when we're not rushing through airports, we're waiting in them -- and the parts of the airport that we see the most are the lounges, restaurants and shops.

There may be several reasons for this oversight. First and foremost, with the high costs of operations, concessionaires need to focus on maximizing revenue. Also, post-9/11, airport developers were distracted by a whole slew of other considerations, such as retrofitting to changing consumer buying patterns. No longer did travellers hang around with friends and family at restaurants and cafes pre-security. The long security lines, delays, and stress forced travellers to postpone their shopping and dining until after they cleared the security gauntlet, when they could finally relax.

When I lead communication efforts for one of the largest airport developers, HMSHost, our research found that travellers tended to stay within four shops of their departure gate. Tailoring shops and restaurants to this new hyper security state became priority one.

Understanding departure demographics was also a necessity in determining food and shopping options. For instance, were we catering to international or domestic travellers? Were they business or leisure travellers? Critical details such as this became the focus to ensure delivery of the right product mix. Options such as Quiznos, McDonald's and Chili's are sure winners when it comes to maximizing revenue, but absolute losers when considered through the lens of design, creativity, and reflecting the culture and creativity of a city. Only recently have concessionaires begun to return their focus to the design and architecture of their shops and restaurants.

Les Cappetta, president and CEO at SSP, says, "We pride ourselves on designing restaurants that provide solutions to travellers' needs and a level of intrigue that makes the journey part of the destination. Each detail is important and plays a critical role in complementing the quality of food and service." Some of the results have been spectacular and the slide show to follow acknowledges a few creative spaces.

This change is happening just in time. Airports Council International recently announced that global passenger traffic rose by 6.6 per cent, topping the 5 billion passenger mark for the first time in history according to their ACI World Annual Traffic Report for 2010. This comprehensive industry reference included over 1,300 airports in 157 countries. 69 per cent of airports worldwide registered positive passenger growth at an average of 8.6 per cent. More flights could translate to more delays. According to Flight Stats, the number of global flight delays in a 30-day period from September to October 2011 was 446,552.

For concessionaires, this means more customers, with more time on their hands. And for the average traveller, it means that being stuck in the airport doesn't have to be sheer misery. Whether you're headed home to Seattle for the holiday, connecting through Amsterdam, or spending a long weekend in Los Angeles, I've featured some of the best-designed and most creative restaurants. Who knew that killing time could be so much fun?

Creative Spaces/Airports
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