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The right mix on the menu: Clare Williams of Tempelmere spoke to representatives from Select Service Partner and Oslo Airport regarding the importance of creating the right balance. (Retail).

Many airports have a unique identity that reflects the community they serve and the passengers who use them. Successful airport retailing depends on creating the right blend of international brands, local concepts and tailor-made outlets that perfectly match the business objectives of the airport and the demands of its passengers. And when it comes to providing food and beverage outlets, striking the right balance is essential.

Local flavour for Hong Kong

When Hong Kong International Airport wanted to upgrade its food and beverage provision, it turned to travel catering specialist Select Service Partner (SSP) to help it come up with a formula that would appeal to the diverse spread of passengers now visiting its terminals. "Hong Kong International Airport has grown and evolved since it opened in 1998", says SSP's Vice President, Lars Crone. "It was important that its bars and restaurants reflected that change."

The airport has seen a substantial increase in the number of passengers from mainland China, and SSP recognised that a traditional Asian option would be most popular with these travellers. And so the hunt began for a local supplier who could provide an authentic Asian flavour and meet the high standards that are expected at an international airport. Crone states that in the Asian market, the product is more important than the surroundings in which it is served. "It was essential that we got that product right, while creating an ambiance appropriate to one of the world's leading airports." SSP spent considerable time visiting various local restaurants looking for the perfect partners. "We needed to be confident that they could deliver on quality, but also it was important to convince them that we could be trusted with their brand. It is their reputation on the line as well as ours."

SSP finally came to an agreement with two Local suppliers to operate two new outlets in the airport's arrivals hall The first was the Japanese restaurant Ajisen Ramen. It serves a selection of noodle dishes, cooked in a savoury stock made to a secret recipe. The Ajisen Ramen brand is well known in the area, with over 300 outlets in Japan and 50 in the wider Asian region. To complement this offering, SSP chose the Chinese-style Hui Lau Shan, which is famous for its fresh fruit desserts and juices. Its specialities include 'sea coconut combo', a cocktail of fresh fruits and sea coconut served with coconut ice, and mango and coconut milk with sago. There then began the complex process of adapting these brands to the sometimes taxing environment of an international airport. "Airport catering is very different to running a high-street restaurant," says Crone. "Some outlets have to open 24 hours a day, and be able to offer several `day parts', such as breakfast and snacks as well as lunch and dinner. As passengers have a limited time to spend in the restaurant, all meats have to be served quickly. The menu on offer has to be carefully `engineered' to ensure that it is appropriate for the airport market." Staffing, security and stock management are among the other issues that can be problematic for the catering organisation that does not have experience in the airport sector. The two new units opened earlier this year, and both are drawing a large number of customers. Ajisen Ramen is now operating at 80% capacity throughout the day, and at 100% during lunch and in the evenings, with customers queuing to get in even as late as 11pm.

While in Norway....

An upgrade of the facilities at Oslo International Airport presented a totally different challenge. The decision to build a new commercial area was prompted by dear business objectives--the airport wanted to improve its image and increase its revenue. It planned to achieve this by bringing a new range of quality retailing facilities together in one centralised location. Espen Ettre, the airport's Terminal and Commercial Director explains: "Our aim was to create a `stop effect' by providing a raft of excellent shopping and eating experiences that encourages passengers to linger in the retail area." Impressed with SSP's catering operations at Copenhagen Airport, Oslo Airport asked the company to come up with a bespoke solution that reflected Norwegian style and added cachet to the new area. SSP found its inspiration in the tale of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer. Nearly sixty years ago, Thor set sail from Peru on a wooden raft called Kon-Tiki. His aim was to recreate the epic voyage of an ancient civilization, and after 101 days at sea, he reached the shores of Polynesia. These adventures provided the theme for the new collection of catering outlets at the airport. Working in close co-operation with Norway's Thor Heyerdahl Museum, SSP developed a bar called The Explorer, and separate cafe and restaurant named after the Kon-Tiki. These share the same kitchen, making it easier to cater for fluctuations in demand and to maintain service levels throughout the day.

With the growing popularity of casual dining, the choice of a sit-down, waiter-service restaurant is an unusual one. However Oslo Airport believed that it was an important element if it was to portray an image of high quality. In addition, Ettre and his team were convinced that it would lead to an increase in retail sales as passengers would shop both before and after eating. Ettre has also found other uses for the new facilities. Some of the smaller international airlines that use the airport only operate two or three flights per day. For these companies, it is often not viable to provide lounge facilities, and some are now using the restaurant as an extension of their First and Business class services. In addition, some of the other companies based at the airport now use the facilities as a venue for meetings and as somewhere to entertain clients.

The new bars and restaurants are proving a great success, and total food and beverage sales have increased. An improved food range is one reason for the growth in sales, and a `better food offering' has in turn boosted beverage sales. As Ettre hoped, the effect on other retail sales has also been positive. Sales from the Duty Free area have increased, and Ettre says that although it is early days, the signs are also good for the rest of the retail operation. "September 11 has made it difficult to monitor trends in total retail sales. Sales per passenger provide a more accurate picture, and these have increased." The improvements have also prompted a welcome upturn in the airport's IATA ratings. The second quarter results for retail were improved, and while the food and beverage operations were not open in time to be assessed in the fast survey, Ettre is confident that the airport's efforts will be rewarded with strong ratings in the third quarter. "Food and beverage operations are not as important as other retail activities as a source of revenue for an airport," says Ettre. "However, when it comes to creating the right impression, their role is crucial." The new facilities at Oslo and Hong Kong airports are very different. But there is one thing they do have in common. At Oslo and at Hong Kong they have been carefully crafted to suit the precise needs of their passengers. This means that in both cases, revenue has been maximised, and in both cases, passengers now leave the airport with the best possible impression.
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Comment:The right mix on the menu: Clare Williams of Tempelmere spoke to representatives from Select Service Partner and Oslo Airport regarding the importance of creating the right balance. (Retail).
Author:Williams, Clare
Publication:Airports International
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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