These past two days I’ve had the honor of attending and participating in the ACI-NA Concessions Conference in Toronto. I think it is fair to say that concessions have never been more important to airports and, more importantly, to passengers than ever before.
Our passengers spend more time in airports than ever before, whether because they arrive earlier to account for security requirements, or perhaps because their flights were delayed or cancelled. A well-designed, well thought-out, concessions program is a critical part of an airport’s customer service strategy.
Add on top of that the need for airports to generate more non-aeronautical revenue. Airline finances are under pressure and airports wanting to retain or attract service are doing all they can to make their communities an economically viable option for airlines.
So, with finances under extraordinary pressure and passengers having to spend more time than ever at airports, it is easy to see why I say that concessions have never been more important.
I didn’t know what to expect at this conference. With the economy under pressure and the meeting being held outside the United States, I didn’t know what kind of attendance we would attract. But we have more than 300 here and in talking to them it is clear that they believe concessions have never been more important to airports and passengers.
The sessions have covered a wide range of topics and provided everyone with a lot of great ideas. Perhaps more important, airport staff and concessionaries can be spotted all over the hotel and downtown Toronto having one-to-one meetings, networking, building their business and figuring out new ways to meet passenger and airport needs.
The energy level at this conference is as high as at any I’ve ever attended. There is realism about current economic conditions, but optimism that airports and concessionaires can work together to find new and innovative ways to meet passenger needs.
Because the meeting is in Canada, we’ve had great participation from Canadian airports large and small. One of the things I’ve learned in this job is that airports around the world share very similar needs and challenges. The fact that our organization includes airports on both sides of the border is a real strength.
Toronto is one of the world’s great cities. The theater, food, sports and shopping options are outstanding. The airport here is one of the world’s great airports and the staff is just great to work with. They are smart, energetic and fully focused on customer service.
I can’t end this without a mention of hockey. Our host airport event last night was held at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Attendees competed against one another in interactive games to see if they could score on all time great goalies and see if they could stop the shots of some of the NHL’s greatest players. A lot of folks brought their hockey jerseys, and we had special ACI-NA jerseys made for our staff and the planning committee.
A highlight of this conference is our awards luncheon. The emcee was Dennis Hull, a former NHL player and a member of one of hockey’s royal families. Dennis was VERY funny and the audience was quite entertained. And the fact that someone such as him emceed the event added to what really is the academy awards of the concessions industry. We had a lot of winners and they can be found listed on our web site. Special mention should be made of the fact that Susan Bush of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was named Concession Person of the Year. The PANYNJ airports won a number of individual awards and Susan richly deserves this award.
Boston Logan was named the winner of the Richard A. Griesbach Award for overall concessions excellence. We do not announce these awards prior to the luncheon so no one knew what they would win (by the way, awards are determined by a panel of neutral judges). Standing on stage to present the awards I was able to see the reactions of the winners and it is obvious how much the ACI-NA concessions awards mean to the industry and to the winners. Click here to view a full list of the winners for the 2008 ACI-NA Concessions Contest.
So next time you are in an airport and need to pick up a newspaper or book or sandwich or drink, or perhaps some electronics or even a massage, keep in mind all the thought and effort that goes in to placing those goods and services in our airports, and know that airports and concessionaires have the interests, tastes and needs of passengers foremost in mind.