Surprise package

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Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (pictured below) has reinvented its two terminals to deliver a more authentic local experience, providing a boutique treat for passengers

When were you last pleasantly surprised by an airport? Unfortunately too many feel all too familiar, with the same collection of F&B and retail brands conspiring to rob them of any meaningful personality. This is the problem Filip Soete, chief commercial officer at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport in the South of France, had to solve when planning and overseeing the complete renovation of its two main terminals in a bid to offer “the most surprising commercial experience in a European airport”.

“If you can get the passenger to smile and think, ‘Wow, this is fun’, we believe it will not only improve passenger satisfaction, but will also boost non-aeronautical revenue,” he says. The airport aims to grow such revenue by 40% over the next five years, having achieved €200m (US$227m) in non-aeronautical sales in 2015.

To achieve such ambitious growth, in 2013 the airport decided to completely review its commercial offer. “We needed more commercial space and so we worked with Robbie Gill at The Design Solution on developing a masterplan,” explains Soete. “We actually had the space but it was mostly landside, so we shuffled what we had and transformed landside and airside to eventually double the commercial area airside. We then had to re-tender the whole F&B and retail offer to match our vision. We said: ‘Listen, we want to be surprising, we also want a sense of place, which is very important, and we want to be different from other airports.'”

Four principles underpinned the airport’s vision: more space, seamless flow, more time and more comfort. These aspirations would be realized in both terminals via three key elements: a single relocated security control in each terminal better able to deal with peak passenger volumes, a single commercial area leading to all gates, and increased airside space.

“We are trying to make things as easy as possible for passengers with the new centralized security areas, which enable our security colleagues to guarantee a maximum waiting time of 10 minutes, and to make it as seamless as possible.” Soete admits that the current high state of alert in France following the Paris terror attacks has put that goal under strain. “Unfortunately we now have to check Schengen passports and that can create queues after security, but we hope this will change in the coming months. Overall we have doubled the space and doubled the security screening machines so we can better handle peaks. That’s a real improvement.”

Right: The interior design of La Plage,

a new restaurant and bar in T2, was inspired by the Côte d’Azur’s chic

beach bars

Growth market

Work began in 2015 with the remodeling of T1, with the facility remaining open during its entire renovation. Some 10,900m² will be affected by the renovation works for Terminal 1, which will see airside commercial space grow by 160% to 3,472m² (1,057m² duty free, 1,281m² shops and 1,134m² F&B). Seating and circulation space in T1 will grow by 60% to 3,307m² and the security control area, at 1,378m², will be twice its original size.

“Passengers at T1 now come out of security screening into a large store selling alcohol, tobacco and fragrances before they reach the departures lounge,” explains Soete. “Once work is complete, they will be sitting just a few feet from some of the best names in the luxury and fashion industries, chosen to reflect a sense of place and to showcase the Côte d’Azur region, which we have made the heart of our project.”

Meanwhile, the whole of T2, some 23,000m², is being completely remodeled. A 4,500m² airside extension will see commercial space increase by 108% to 3,322m² (819m² for duty free, 1,347m² for shops and 1,156m² for F&B), seating and circulation will grow by 88% to 13,237m² and the security control area will expand by 144% to 2,176m². “T2 was just a little too small, especially airside, so we decided to add over 3,000m² on two levels – shops on the ground and an upper level with restaurants offering a fantastic sea view. We are also enlarging the non-Schengen area by 1,500m² because T2 is where future growth will take place at the airport. We plan to cap T1 traffic to 5.5 million pax per year, but expect traffic overall to grow to 14-15 million pax per year.”

By 2017 both terminals will be ready (May 2016 for T1, May 2017 for T2) providing double the retail and waiting areas previously available, with work estimated to cost €45m (US$51m).

Left: Both terminals feature new

walk-through duty-free stores

Convincing offer

Following what he describes as a “classical” tender process, Soete chose four commercial operators as partners: Aelia, for alcohol, tobacco and fragrances; Dufry for fashion; and Relay and SSP for F&B, with the latter operating 10 outlets in an 11-year deal. “The only thing different about the tender was that we based 40% of our decision when evaluating each contract on how they planned to bring something surprising, with a real Riviera feeling,” says Soete.

Fortunately the need to jettison more proven but predictable brands had no impact on projected revenues: “I was very surprised not only by the high quality of the offers, but also by the high revenues they proposed. There was real competition and let’s just say they exceeded our expectations. It is actually because they offer something different from other airports that they are convinced they can sell more.”

Strong sales should come as no real surprise given the Riviera’s reputation for luxury and high-end retail. Hence well-heeled passengers who like to browse the boutiques on Cannes’ famous Croisette will be pleased to find outposts of Versace, Baccarat and Hermès at the airport.

However, it’s the rich thread of regional offers that makes the greatest impression. Celebrated parfumeur Fragonard has opened its first boutique in an airport, complete with an interactive ‘fragrance garden’, while a branch of L’Occitane followed this spring.

Saveurs de Provence, a shop that stocks a range of typical French Riviera gastronomy brands, further reinforces a sense of place, offering the most refined local groceries, confectionery, wine and other alcoholic beverages.

Fashion outlets include Max Mara and Longchamp, as well as a unique Riviera Chic multibrand unit featuring Banana Moon, Pain de Sucre, Eres, Gas and Vilebrequin, while a Fashion Place multibrand corner sees Pinko, Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss and Zadig & Voltaire, further underlining the region’s chic credentials.

Right: Terminal 1’s Pan Garni serves authentic Niçoise cuisine

Cool cuisine

Local flavor is most evident in the F&B offer, and no more so than at Chez Pipo, a family-run Nice institution that has prospered for generations while

retaining its authenticity and simplicity. The branch of the restaurant has been opened in the boarding area of T1, where it serves traditional favorites including socca made from chickpea flour, pissaladière (onion tart), petits farcis niçois (stuffed vegetables), tourte de blettes (Swiss chard tart) and pan bagnat (niçoise baguette).

“This is a small restaurant in Nice, and it’s the first time they have left their street and installed themselves at an airport,” remarks Soete. “They had to bring their signature big ovens, which were not easy to install at the terminal, but overall the effort was worth it.”

The pièce de résistance will be La Plage de Thierry Marx, a hip restaurant and bar that perfectly captures a surprising Riviera experience. This is a reproduction of a VIP beach bar inspired by iconic St Tropez hot spots such as Nikki Beach Club and Club 55, and brings a dash of beach chic to T1. It even includes a twister slide, although one elemental beach ingredient remains conspicuous by its absence: “I really wanted to have sand, but for security and plenty of other reasons, that was one thing I had to drop,” admits Soete. “But it’s a very nice lounge area, with a DJ playing in the evening while the sun sets. One of the F&B operators proposed building a swimming pool, which would have been very complicated, but I was encouraged that people were willing to go so far to meet the brief.”

Despite the desire to include coastal references, an open-air element airside of one of the terminals proved too much in the final analysis: “That would have been the dream of course, but for security reasons it is quite difficult. But we have opened our first outside terrace landside – Joe & The Juice – at T1. It’s a very nice concept that I first saw in Copenhagen and it has been very successful.”

Another epicurean treat is found in T2, home to L’Estivale, the first venture into airport dining by Argentine-born chef Mauro Colagreco, whose Côte d’Azur-based restaurant Mirazur was awarded its second Michelin star in 2012, and was named the best restaurant in France in the 2014 San Pellegrino restaurant awards. L’Estivale will serve a range of small plates as well as a full menu inspired by local foods and Colagreco’s travels abroad.

“We will also have Jamie Oliver’s Italian,” adds Soete. “Jamie Oliver is of course an English chef, but we are a 20-minute drive from Italy, and Italy is very much in our DNA, so for us it was obvious to have an Italian restaurant at the airport.”

Left: La Plage will include regular DJ

sets and a cascade slide

Place your bets

Having made its investment, initial signs suggest the airport is on track to achieve its ambitious plans to grow non-aeronautical revenue by 40% over the next five years. “When we opened the walk-through duty-free store in T1 on October 1, 2015, we had an expectation of more than 40% and so far we are completely in line with that,” confirms Soete.

“It’s not just about creating a sense of place. We also doubled the size of the commercial area, so automatically if you increase the surfaces, you will sell more, and if you put in a walk through, you will sell more. With only 12 million passengers a year we’re quite a small airport, so passengers never have to walk more than 15 minutes to reach a gate. That gives us a lot of time to sell to them and they are more relaxed,” he explains.

Soete won’t be drawn into revealing any teething problems resulting from the desire to bring in local brands unfamiliar with the demands of operating in an airport, but admits it was a considerable challenge. “Our experience is that to make one-offs is very complicated and it’s true that the F&B operator [SSP Group] that worked with the local brands needed a lot of patience to get them installed,” he says.

Overall Soete believes any such pain was worth it: “Passengers traveling to the Côte d’Azur come here to enjoy themselves and have fun,” he says. “What we really want is to provide a glimpse at the airport when they leave of the things they discovered during their stay – the brands and the restaurants – to continue that feeling of discovery. It’s really important to differentiate your offer from other airports. Otherwise, if you always see the same thing, you will decide not to buy it because you know you can get it somewhere else.”

This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of Passenger Terminal World magazine.

June 15, 2016

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Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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