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Airport culture: there is more at the airport than jets.

Children hugging grandparents. Sisters bidding tearful good-byes. Couples sharing a quiet moment. Young and old sipping coffee in a coffee shop, reading a book in a comfortable chair.

At the airport there is always someone coming or going. Foreign travellers, foreign diplomats, sports stars, American fishermen. Soldiers, politicians, musicians. Vacationers and conventioneers, meeters and greeters.

Airports. It's here everyone comes together; where nobody knows your name. Yet, side by side there are hugs and kisses of greeting and farewell. Side by side watching the clock and buying last minute souvenirs and gifts.

Like a long-awaited movie premiere, many of us are drawn to airports. We love the excitement, the exotic mix of travellers, the allure of greeting people who have travelled to places we may only dream of visiting.

These days, Winnipeg International Airport is hosting its own premiere of sorts. Its Business Development Group recently unveiled an exciting and innovative $390,000 retail development. The mezzanine level surrounding the departure gates has been transformed into a colorful, bold new retail streetscape. Dubbed Market Avenue -- Your New Retail Airportunity!, it captures Winnipeg's flavor and atmosphere among an eclectic mix of shops promising airport patrons a memorable shopping experience.

Market Avenue's look is unique with formglass columns dividing the shops and open metal roof framing in vibrant colors that contrast the black and chrome interior of the Air Terminal Building. The stores have fixed glazed walls for all-around visibility and characteristic shop signs on the decorative canopies. Quiet areas for reading are located at the back and along the perimeter of Market Avenue. Street lamps, greenery and directory boards add to the streetscape environment.

Phase 1 of the Airport Redevelopment Plan was launched July 1 with the opening of Transit Shops, duty free news-stands and a sports boutique. Coles, the Book People!, followed August 20, and Four Winds Trading Company, featuring aboriginal crafts, opened September 1. Phase 2, slated for opening November 1, consists of a new Intercity Leisure arcade and a business centre operated by Mutual of Omaha with insurance, foreign exchange and fax and courier services. Plans for Phase 3 include shoe-shining, baggage check and storage, a specialty gift shop, a children's fun zone, expanded food and beverage facilities, and a salon. Phase 3 of the airport should be completed by next summer bringing the number of retail shops to 13.

In total 10,000 square feet will be devoted to retail space compared to 6,000 square feet before the airport redevelopment. Space allocated to food and beverage operations will expand by approximately 3,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet.

Warren Thompson, manager of Transport Canada's Business Development Airports Group, says the goal of Market Avenue is to provide better customer service. "Until now, the airport was not meeting all of the travellers' needs. We wanted to improve customer satisfaction." It's a goal Market Avenue plans to achieve through strong merchandizing, fair prices and reliable store hours for travellers.

Lynn Bishop, Winnipeg International Airport general manager, adds, "Winnipeg International Airport's new retail environment is at the forefront of Canadian airports in terms of design, aesthetics and a progressive tender call and selection process."

Traditionally, airports have had a reputation for over-pricing everything from toothpaste to t-shirts due, in part, to a tendering process that focused on the highest financial offer.

But Thompson says Business Development Unit (BDU) has moved away from awarding to the highest financial bidder, which may have penalized those who were creative in their marketing approach, and in the process maintained high prices and poor selection.

Market Avenue's approach instead was to consider qualitative factors such as proposal quality, marketing and operating experience, retail unit design and financial capability. "The result is that all the shops create a sense of what the region and catchment area are about for travellers, and give Winnipeggers a reason to take pride in their airport," Thompson says.

Wendy Perchaluik, commercial development officer with BDU, assures that Winnipeg International Airport patrons won't face price gouging at Market Avenue shops. "We emphasize the price/quality ratio with the Market Avenue retailers and along with the revamped rental structure are in a position to provide quality products and services that are priced accordingly."

Fran McColgan, 32, on her way home to London, England after travelling across Canada, likes the revamped Winnipeg International Airport. "It's nice to be able to buy anything you need right at the airport. From what I've seen, the prices seem good. Naturally, you might buy something at the airport which you wouldn't otherwise buy, but it's good to have a choice," McColgan says, adding she prefers Winnipeg's airport over Toronto's because it's more spacious, less crowded and chairs are set aside for those who just want to sit and read.

Over 2.1 million passengers pass through Winnipeg International Airport's Air Terminal Building in a given year, translating into traffic close to 3.5 million when well-wishers and the airport's 5,000 employees are included.

"We've really emphasized competitive prices with the tender awards as being critical to the employee market," Thompson says. "If they do things right, they can count on positive publicity and goodwill among the 5,000 airport employees who are there day in and day out."

At the Transit Shops, which sell newspapers, magazines, snack food, souvenirs, sports merchandise, maple fudge and other Canadiana, Canada Customs agent Tracy Ptashnik, 21, says she likes what she sees.

"The prices are reasonable and the shops are very handy. You can pick up a book or something and you don't have to go shopping elsewhere. It's so close."

Ptashnik also approves of the newer look. "It's much nicer and brighter and I assume it gives a better impression to people coming to Winnipeg for the first time."

Perchaluik stresses that Market Avenue is not positioning itself to compete with Winnipeg malls and downtown. "We are not a venue aimed at attracting Winnipeggers, but want to access the needs of the travelling public and airport employees."

But to a degree, Thompson says Market Avenue's timing is competing with a massive restructuring and recessionary period. "When times are tough, retailers have to be innovative and creative. Luckily, as reflected in Phase 1, there's definitely a ray of optimism out there."

Under the tender agreement, retailers were required to submit a minimum guarantee of between eight to 20 per cent of projected gross sales -- depending on the type of shop -- as rent payment. Owners were encouraged to submit conservative sales estimates in their initial five-year forecast. As an added incentive, retailers are not required to pay their utility costs.

Bishop says all three parties involved have to win: the Airport, the retailer and the traveller. "We want to maintain a good partnership with the businesses involved in order to enhance their position and ours."

For too long, Winnipeg International Airport has been overlooked by the local community as a viable retail opportunity, Thompson says. "When retailers see the kind of traffic numbers with a captive market, they will take notice. People are here for a purpose and if they need something, they will purchase it at the airport."

Penney Dobinsky, terminal manager for Transit Shops, says the response so far has been wonderful. "Market Avenue is new and it's the right environment. Everyone is in a good mood."

On opening day at Four Winds Trading Company, where beautiful Eskimo art, pottery and native dolls are meticulously displayed on pristine glass shelves, there is an air of excitement. Richard Gaywish, general manager of West Region Economic Development Corp. which operates Four Winds, says the airport was the best location in which to expand from its successful Forks location.

"We're promoting native heritage and accommodating the needs and demands of airport patrons. We'll ship our merchandise to anywhere people want us to," he says, adding first day sales were excellent.

Market Avenue's design and location is also geared to pull traffic flow in front of the shops giving them higher visibility and access among departing passengers, their friends, relatives or business associates. This is accomplished by repositioning the north and south escalators to ride up to the mezzanine level and pull people across the front of the businesses. The centre escalators at the control bridge go down to the main level.

Thompson says the BDU wants to make Winnipeg International Airport "a benchmark airport." Retail development is not the only area of focus for the Business Development Unit, the first of its kind in a Canadian airport.

The airport undertook a strategic priorities study which focused on air services and where the community is underserviced by Winnipeg International Airport. As a result of this study and analysis, Air Canada resumed two flights daily to Chicago beginning October 31. The study also identified Denver as being a prime U.S. hub currently underserviced out of Winnipeg. The lack of direct overseas European connections out of Winnipeg is another area in which the community is underserviced. The BDU is working with airlines to achieve air service to these destinations.

Bishop says the BDU's objectives include promoting Winnipeg as a significant intermodal transportation shipment point, working closely with local parties such as Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and Winnipeg 2000, and playing a significant role as an economic development catalyst.

Bishop states, "The airport must be seen as an economic generator, not just a people processor." He says Winnipeg International Airport must promote its advantages of geographic location, excess capacity of terminal and runways, 24 hour-a-day operations, and an infrastructure second to none in terms of being able to accommodate a wide variety of aircraft operations.

The BDU will be getting some help in their proactive approach to airport development from the City of Winnipeg Planning Department. An Airport Vicinity Development Plan was mandated under Plan Winnipeg and provincial enabling legislation was passed June 30, 1993. A steering committee has been struck to present a report to city council by mid-December and a series of public open houses will then give Winnipeggers an opportunity to voice their concerns and recommendations.

City planner Ross Mitchell says the goals of the AVDP are economic development related to the airport and to the economic well-being of the city, regulating land-use and urban development within AVDP boundaries to ensure compatibility with airport requirements, and airport noise management to minimize any detrimental affects on residential environments.

"Winnipeg International Airport hasn't been promoted as a cornerstone of Winnipeg's economic base," Mitchell says. "Now is the time for us to exploit our advantages. We have a global audience and if we don't get in the race, we'll be left behind."

By summer 1994, Winnipeg International Airport may also fall under Local Authority rather than the Federal Government. Airport general manager Lynn Bishop says Local Authority is a statutory creation which operates and manages the airport, and leases it from the Federal Government.

"In a business sense, we will be able to operate with more independence, provide a greater responsiveness to local needs and move quicker on certain decisions," says Bishop, adding Winnipeg will join Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and two Montreal airports which already are operated under Local Authority.

With these kinds of creative initiatives, Winnipeg International Airport will offer a new and interesting destination to visit.

Who Flies Where

At the heart of Winnipeg International Airport is the fleet of sleek silver flying machines given such names as 747, 757, A-320, DC-9. The nondescript titles convey little of the power and elegance of those aircraft which gracefully transport us from a runway in Winnipeg to a cafe in Paris or a luau in Hawaii.

By the end of 1993, an estimated 2,156,330 passengers will have enplaned or deplaned at Winnipeg International Airport. Their tickets will have listed destinations in the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia. Wherever travellers want to go, there's an airplane out of Winnipeg to take them there or to a connecting plane in a major hub.

Canadian Airlines International, in partnership with Canadian Regional and Calm Air, hosts 25 flights a day out of Winnipeg International Airport carrying approximately 1,500 passengers per day.

Canadian Airlines' domestic flights include Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Dryden, Thunder Bay and nine smaller centres in the Canadian North.

Canadian Holidays (Canadian Airlines' charter operation) flies to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, San Juan and Orlando.

Air Canada schedules 25 flights a day out of Winnipeg International Airport carrying approximately 1,500 passengers. Air Canada's direct destinations out of Winnipeg are Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Moncton, Halifax, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Chicago, Orlando, Montego Bay, Hawaii, and London, England.

Northwest Airlines has four flights a day from Winnipeg International Airport to Minneapolis-St. Paul, flying about 500 passengers per day.

During the winter high season Canada 3000 sends 18 flights per week out of Winnipeg International Airport to the following destinations: Orlando, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cancun, Palm Springs, Cozumel, Las Vegas, Toronto, Vancouver and Phoenix. Approximately 2,700 passengers fly on a Canada 3000 flight per week during the high season.

Ilana Simon is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Manitoba Business Ltd.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Winnipeg International Airport
Author:Simon, Ilana
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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