ATL Service Concessions Offer First-Class Experiences to All Visitors

Ronnie Garrett
Published in: 

"Road-weary" travelers can get some much-needed rest and a little extra pampering at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). Minute Suites and XpresSpa locations were recently added as a direct response to passenger requests.

"We try to poll passengers at least four times a year to get an understanding of the things they are looking for," says John Cugasi, director of concessions at ATL. "As a result, we knew when we designed the new concessions program that anything that benefited a healthy lifestyle was something passengers were interested in."

Facts & Figures

Project: Service Concessions

Location: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Vendors: Minute Suites (private retreat rooms) & XpresSpa

Prices: $30 for first hour at Minute Suites; XpresSpa facials cost $45 - $120 and manicures $20 - $45.

Results: Initial annual revenues at three XpresSpa locations totaled $11.5 million; Minute Suites served hundreds of passengers its first week.

Catch a Snooze

Minute Suites, operated by Business Traveler Services (BTS), fills traveler requests by offering five retreat rooms in Concourse B designed to help passengers relax, conduct business or sleep in peace.

Visitors pay $30 for their first hour of private respite and $7.50 for every 15 minutes afterward.

Each 7-by-8-foot suite is equipped with a daybed sofa, pillow and fresh blankets. A sound-masking system neutralizes noise while napware audio helps facilitate a refreshing nap. Similar to the pods used in Asia, Minute Suite rooms also offer high-definition television with access to DIRECT TV, phone and Internet, and the airport's flight-tracking system.

"We sought to create a healthier travel experience," explains Minute Suites co-founder Daniel Solomon. "We looked at the sleep side, and the more we learned about sleep physiology, the more we realized there's not much better for you than a nap."

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, he notes, recently concluded that a 26-minute nap boosts performance by 34% and improves mood and alertness. Harvard researchers similarly found mid-day napping cuts an individual's risk of heart attack by more one-third and improves blood flow to the memory areas of the brain.

Whether they're looking for scientifically proven health benefits or just trying to catch an ever-elusive power nap in a crowded, noisy airport, passengers seem to be embracing the Minute Suites concept. The new ATL service concession attracted several hundred guests during its first week of operation in November, reports Solomon. Stays averaged 90 minutes, with an average customer experience rating of 4.98 on a scale of 1 to 5, he reports.

"It seems like the response is matching up to our initial market research," says Solomon.

The company hopes to add more suites in ATL's Concourse E before moving into other airports, he adds. "We want to expand in Atlanta first," he says. "It makes perfect sense."

Minute Suites demonstrated its commitment to good health by being "green" while constructing its new facilities. The suites employ a modular construction system that uses cotton batting instead of sheet rock. Televisions that draw 70% less electricity were selected, and housekeepers clean with Vital Oxide cleaning chemicals, which emit less volatile organic compounds than traditional products but kill 90% of germs in 60 seconds or less.

Layover Pedis

Three new XpresSpas, located in ATL's A and C concourses, also support the airport's goal to build more health-based concession offerings. As havens of rejuvenation, they offer services such as massage that are proven through research to offer significant health benefits.

Based on the reaction of airport visitors, the logic is sound. According to ATL's Cugasi, two of the airport's XpresSpa locations have pulled in a combined $11.5 million during their first year of operation. "We eventually hope to open one in every concourse," he says.

Moreton Binn, chairman and CEO of XpresSpa, understands the spas' appeal. "People are often stuck at airports longer than they would like or anticipated," Binn explains. "They need a way to pass the time, and a spa offers an excellent respite for them. There's nothing better, more relaxing and stress-free than lying down on a massage lounger."

The beauty of XpresSpa, he notes, is that visitors don't need an appointment and clients can receive multiple services at the same time. A weary traveler, for instance, might receive a foot massage, while getting a manicure, while seated in a massage lounger. "Travelers are looking to catch a plane, so they can't afford to sit and have a manicure and when that's done get a foot massage and when that's finished receive a facial," he says. "At XpresSpa, you can do all of those things at the same time, which fits well in airport mode."

Managing several services simultaneously tested the company at first. Now, it "over hires," much like a baseball team, which has players on the bench waiting to pinch-hit when necessary. "If you need two manicures, you have to have four or five manicurists available; you can't afford to be without," he explains. "You just don't know when people are going to walk in."

XpresSpa currently operates 30 locations in 14 major airports on two continents.

What's the Attraction?

Service concessions are taking off, says Susan Goyette, senior director at HMSHost. Although the company focuses on airport dining and shopping rather than service-oriented concessions, Goyette says she understands their appeal.

"Travelers are time-pressed, and being able to do something at an airport can make their day and travel experience better," she says. "I'd get a manicure at an airport if I had the time. I think it's a great concept."

Concessions offering services such as massages and napping suites not only provide healthy alternatives for travelers, they are also a needed prescription for airports, contends Christina Cassotis, vice president of aviation consultants SH&E.

"When they go into an airport, they are usually very successful, very fast," Cassotis comments. "The appeal of this type of concession is that it pays its bills."

Service-related concessions have done very well overseas for some time, she notes.

That being said, she warns that an XpresSpa or Minute Suites location may not do well at every airport. First and foremost, she says, concession managers must look at how realistic a company's business plan is, its track record elsewhere and how the concessions are poised to ride out a downturn. Airports should also carefully consider their existing offerings, she adds. "The concern always must be selecting the right mix of concessions," she explains.

If all seems "right," the next step Cassotis suggests is reviewing traveler demographics. What is the business-leisure mix? What percentage of travel is international versus domestic? What products appeal to these travelers? She further reminds airports not to overlook the needs of employees who may work odd hours and appreciate the convenience of certain types of in-airport services.

ATL statistics reinforce Cassotis' point. About 60% of XpresSpa revenue comes from airport employees who receive discounted services, reports Binn.

Other factors to weigh, continues Cassotis, are overall daily passenger traffic and the number of originating and departing flights compared to the number of connecting flights. "With connecting flights, there can be delays," she explains. "And in those situations, service-type concessions do very well."

The experience at ATL again supports Cassotis' point. With 70% of its air traffic comprised by transfer flights and average dwell times in the terminal of more than an hour, there seems to be a market for respite. Airport visitors are embracing the opportunity to catch some Zs in a private suite or squeeze in a quick facial while waiting for a connecting flight.

Binn cautions concessions directors to remember that these types of services not only appeal to only high-end travelers with some cash to burn; they appeal to everyone. He consequently encourages airports with the right mix of traffic and demographics to give them a spin.

"These types of services take the tension out of traveling," he explains. "They show travelers that you don't have to buy a first class ticket to have a first-class travel experience."

ATL's airport concessions team recently received the Best Concessions Management Team award in the large airport division from Airport Revenue News.


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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