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Popping up everywhere: Airport pop-ups expand beyond retail

The phenomenon of pop-up shops goes back to the early 2000s, when the first outlets started to appear in empty buildings or on street corners in downtown city centres. The innovative approach to retailing first gained popularity in the US, ostensibly originating in Los Angeles and New York, before spreading to Europe and subsequently most of the rest of the world.

And like any new concept, it has evolved significantly over the last decade to the extent that it is now something more than just a temporary shopping area, and the model has been adapted to serve various purposes and suit diverse environments.

Concepts such as pop-up bars, lounges, restaurants and even entertainment zones can help differentiate one airport from another, breathe new life into space-limited environments, showcase the local culture, and promote small businesses and their products and services.

Indeed, a number of airports have seized the opportunity to embrace the pop-up trend and introduced the concept into the terminal environment. They include Copenhagen, Paris CDG, London Gatwick, Helsinki and San Francisco, where airport director John Martin views them as the perfect opportunity for trialling potential new permanent outlets.

And why wouldn’t he, as the potential to bring multiple benefits to various parties – airports, brands and passengers – has developed the model further to embrace ideas that go beyond traditional airport retail. Concepts such as pop-up bars, lounges, restaurants and even entertainment zones can help differentiate one airport from another, breathe new life into space-limited environments, showcase the local culture, and promote small businesses and their products and services.

Pop-up stores also offer airports the opportunity to be unique and surprise and excite passengers. They also give brands the chance to reach a new audience in a way that allows them to minimise costs and reduce the risk otherwise involved in establishing a permanent airport presence.

Going beyond retail
Food & beverage (F&B) pop-ups are also gaining in popularity. Indeed, for the second year in a row, Copenhagen Airport celebrated the Copenhagen Cooking food festival with the opening of an in-terminal pop-up restaurant. The airport teamed up with F&B operator, SSP, and Michelin-starred chefs, Thomas Rode, Mikkel Marschall and David Johansen, to open CPH Nordic Dining. The chefs took turns to offer passengers Danish-inspired menus that included fresh, seasonal, locally grown products.

Virgin Atlantic, Qantas
The recent rise in pop-up restaurant popularity has also been noticed by airlines that use airport space to provide premium services. Virgin Atlantic, for example, partnered with London’s famous Ceviche restaurant to open a pop-up dining venue at its flagship Clubhouse at London Heathrow Airport.

Meanwhile, Australian carrier, Qantas, is rolling out a dedicated programme that will see a number of pop-up ‘dining experiences’ open in the Qantas Club facilities at Australian airports, in partnership with well-known local restaurants. The new project was launched at Sydney Airport with the opening of a pop-up eatery in collaboration with Merivale, a specialist in hospitality and entertainment, before featuring well-known Australian chef Neill Perry in Qantas’ lounge in Melbourne.

In addition to dining experiences, airline lounges are also proving to be great venues for pop-up bars, if initiatives by United Airlines (which introduced Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Glenfiddich tasting bars at Chicago O’Hare, LAX, Newark-Liberty, Houston and Washington Dulles) and British Airways (which opened a temporary Grolsch bar at Heathrow Terminal 5 back in 2010) are anything to go by.

However, while airlines’ efforts tend to focus mainly on premium travellers, most airports try to cater to a wider group of visitors when working with brands. For instance, Toronto Pearson and HMSHost recently opened a Grey Goose Vodka-branded pop-up bar and restaurant in its Arrivals Hall, in partnership with Bacardi Global Travel Retail, which wanted to promote its involvement in the Toronto International Film Festival. Its offerings included complimentary cocktail samples that included three drinks designed exclusively for the event.

Other airports that have embraced pop-up bars include Amsterdam Schiphol, Helsinki and Stockholm Arlanda.

Tailor-made solutions
One of the world’s most innovative pop-up outlets was arguably the IKEA lounge opened at Paris CDG in July 2012.  Designed to showcase the Swedish furniture designs, the 200sqm temporary lounge was open to all travellers over the summer months and boasted its own bedrooms, living room and a dedicated play area for children. In essence, it was a comfortable waiting environment for passengers while raising brand awareness amongst an international audience.

A dedicated concession programme for companies interested in a temporary presence at an airport allows for better control over the development of new pop-up outlets, and appears to be a way forward when approaching the concept.

Elsewhere, in South Africa, a branded pop-up lounge can currently be found at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport. The facility, operated by Standard Bank, is set to be open until May 2014 and offers a number of complimentary amenities such as free coffee, Wi-Fi, access to newspapers, iPads and charging points for mobile devices.

It seems like the possibilities that the pop-up concept brings to airports are endless. Back in 2011, for example, Fisher-Price promoted its toy range by setting up a temporary play area for infants and toddlers at London Gatwick. The pop-up playground, available throughout the summer, allowed the brand to run real-life tests of its products and at the same time provide a valuable service to the youngest passengers.

Another brand to benefit from the pop-up concept was 3M, which in 2009 put its name to Airport Privacy Haven pods installed at a number of US airports to promote the release of a new product. The private zones offered travellers a chance to relax in a quiet environment equipped with complimentary Wi-Fi and power outlets.

A brand new approach
The popularity of pop-up shops has even led to some airports developing their own pop-up concession programmes.

They include San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which recently announced that the first two contracts under its dedicated new pop-up concessions programme had been awarded to McEvoy of Marin – a producer of local, organic, olive oil and a natural body care line – and Collector – a Berkeley-based shop selling locally made art and hand-crafted goods. Each will open separate stores in Boarding Area E of the airport’s new Terminal 3 in January 2014, for a period of between six months and a year.

According to SFO, its pop-up programme is tailor-made for small businesses based in the San Francisco area, with move-in-ready fixtures provided to reduce the initial set-up costs that often challenge many smaller companies. It claims that the programme is an “innovative addition to its nationally recognised amenity programme.”

Airport director John Martin comments: “This is a win-win innovation. I am excited that our customers will enjoy an expanded selection of locally-sourced concessions, and our small business community gains greater access to business opportunities at SFO.”

Without doubt, a dedicated concession programme for companies interested in a temporary presence at an airport allows for better control over the development of new pop-up outlets, and appears to be a way forward when approaching the concept.

This article was first published in the January 2014 edition of Airport World.
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