Toronto Pearson Int’l Developing Uber Eats Option for In-Airport Pickups

Toronto Pearson Int’l Developing Uber Eats Option for In-Airport Pickups
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

As the Greater Toronto Airports Authority stared down the barrel of COVID-19 back in 2020, it realized the pressing need to offer contactless concessions at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ).

Fortunately, a 2018 gate delivery pilot conducted by HMSHost and Uber Eats was still fresh in the minds of its commercial development team. The three entities reunited for a meeting of the minds to offer customers at YYZ an enhanced option for “frictionless transactions.” Rather than concentrating on delivery as in the 2018 pilot, they took a slightly different angle. Feedback from passengers and airport employees prompted the project team to focus on pickup options instead of delivery.

“For their control, people were really interested more in mobile pickup from a broader-based perspective,” explains Suzanne Merrell, senior manager of Retail Operations and Performance for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. “We decided if we were going to put our energies into one model, that was the route we were going to go.”


Project: Mobile Concessions Ordering & Pickup

Location: Toronto Pearson Int’l Airport

Operating Entity: Greater Toronto Airports Authority

Partners: Uber Eats; HMSHost

Instrument: Uber Eats platform showcases 20 HMSHost restaurant & merchant locations throughout airport

Objectives: Frictionless transactions; enhanced customer comfort (especially during COVID pandemic); saving customers time

Debut: 2020

Results: Month-over-month growth driving revenue with higher order values

Once Uber Eats and the Airports Authority were aligned, HMSHost jumped into the mix. Neil Thompson, vice president of Digital for the concessions management company, says it was strategic for the trio to revisit and refine their previous collaboration.

“As of 2020, Uber was the No. 1 downloaded app for travel in the world. Today, Uber Eats is the No. 1 most downloaded app in food service in the world and the largest food delivery platform outside of China. And we are a food service company that operates in the travel environment,” Thompson explains. “To me, it made perfect sense that this would be a partnership. Although it wasn’t initially clear exactly how this would work and exactly where the benefit to the traveler would come in, I think that path to creating a simpler customer experience starts to become more clear as we continue to work together.”

Emphasis on Pickup

With a focus on mobile ordering and pickup, the project team emerged with a revamped offering anchored by an Uber Eats-hosted platform that has expanded to include 20 HMSHost restaurants and retail concessions throughout YYZ. The guiding objective was providing customers an elevated level of convenience and control within the airport.

Rob Mitchell, director of Airports and Travel Business Development for Uber Technologies, emphasizes that the program is still in its early days, but reports that the project partners are seeing continued growth in use of the platform. “At YYZ, in June 2022 compared to June 2021, we are seeing more than 50 times growth in monthly order volume,” he says.

This is encouraging, particularly because passenger traffic at YYZ has only started to recover significantly since March 2022. Despite the promising signs, Mitchell notes that there is still work to be done in terms of educating the public about using Uber Eats at YYZ. 

This is encouraging, particularly because passenger traffic at YYZ has only started to recover significantly since March 2022. Despite the promising signs, Mitchell notes that there is still work to be done in terms of educating the public about using Uber Eats at YYZ. 

“If you survey the traveling public, they overwhelmingly say they want a mobile order option,” he says. “You also really have to do some work at driving that awareness that Uber Eats is available for pickup in this kind of setting, because people don’t necessarily expect it.”

Many people are accustomed to using Uber Eats for delivery at home, but not necessarily as a pickup option—even though Uber Eats is available for pickup from street-side restaurants as well.

“We are definitely pleased we are seeing some pretty healthy month-over-month growth in terms of orders and sales,” Mitchell says. “We have a long way to go, and I think we have a pretty good idea of what we need to do to continue to raise that awareness and what the value proposition is to the traveler.”

He adds that the mobile app offers a lot of value for employees as well as passengers—especially workers with relatively short lunch breaks who don’t want to waste precious minutes waiting in concessions lines. “If they can mobile order, or even schedule their order, that saves them a lot of time, and they may get a chance to hang out with colleagues or do whatever they need to do during those breaks,” Mitchell says. “Uber Eats helps facilitate that.”

The Airports Authority is also optimistic about the potential of the revived venture. “We are really pleased with where growth is going,” Merrell says. “Airports are large and complex places with a lot of communication everywhere, and it takes time to get messaging through—even within our airport community who are here every day. We are doing a lot of work through word of mouth, employee board messaging, et cetera.”

Merrell notes that there is definitely a “build it and they will come” aspect to the model, and has high hopes for repeat use after passengers and employees discover the option. “People become committed to it because they come to rely on it,” she says. “Passenger traffic is returning, with a lot of new leisure travel passengers. It is not necessarily at the same rate of repetitive business travel…but we’re very pleased with where we’re sitting.”

Ride and Eat

While conditions can change quickly as COVID continues to affect travel behavior, Mitchell estimates that up to 10% of YYZ’s departing passengers use Uber for their ride to the airport.

“It gives us a really unique way to be able to communicate with passengers about the availability of Uber Eats,” he explains. “We obviously know where their destination is, and we have surfaces within the app. When [Uber Ride customers] are waiting for a driver to be matched, or when they are actually on a trip in a car, we have an effective advertising platform that we’re now building out. We can use some of those advertising surfaces to communicate things like, ‘Uber Eats is available, place your order now so it’s ready when you get to the airport or through security.’”

The team also has the ability to send a push notification or text message to passengers within a certain amount of time after their Uber ride drop off.

“We are experimenting with these different ways to communicate with passengers,” Mitchell says. “We don’t yet know what will be the most effective, so that’s why we’ve got to experiment with what resonates and has the most impact.”

Onsite Marketing Blitz

At YYZ, the Airports Authority is taking a multilayered approach to get the word out. In addition to social media messaging being executed in conjunction with Uber, plans are in place to amplify the Uber Eats presence on the airport website during its next revamp. There is also targeted digital and physical signage about Uber strategically placed throughout the terminals.

“We are putting messaging in areas that are decision-making points and in areas where customers may be waiting and the message is relevant to them at that part of the journey,” Merrell explains. “Picking up on the messaging Uber ride may have had early on as customers enter the airport is further confirming or cementing that visual in their heads.”

There is also a concerted effort being conducted by HMSHost to promote the mobile pickup option in airport restaurants.

“Even if they are already dining at the restaurant, seeing that Uber Eats messaging again makes passengers know they can use it for pickup next time and spread that word,” says Merrell. “We are really trying to advertise it at multiple touch points around the airport, and we are not done. We are looking at where else can we reinforce what we are talking about.”

Traffic Implications

Although the COVID pandemic has been a challenging time for the airport, Merrell notes that it also has been a great time to develop a new concessions idea with Uber and HMSHost when traffic in the terminal is slower.

“Now, as consumers are beginning to travel again, this is where we are expecting to see that push,” she says, adding that the Airports Authority is very happy with where the project is going.

Mitchell concurs: “While contactless will still be an element of consideration in having mobile order, I think it is now more about the changing nature of consumer expectations and the expectation that people can get whatever they want, whenever they want.”

Mitchell says that Uber is thrilled to partner with YYZ and HMSHost. “We’ve experimented, and arm-in-arm together, taken this leap. While I am really pleased by how things have materialized over the last 12 to 18 months or so, I also am more excited about what we can do going forward, because I do think that there are so many ways we can help travelers feel a greater sense of control and give them more flexibility and bring more convenience to their experience. If we are able to help be one of the pieces, that is obviously good for travelers. It is also, hopefully, really good for HMSHost. If we can help drive more revenue for everybody, that’s a win-win across the board.

“We are seeing growth as passenger traffic comes back and early numbers, subjectively, are saying that these sales are not cannibalizing preexisting business,” he adds.

HMSHost is able to put the venture at YYZ in context with the rest of the airport industry. Thompson notes that travel in Canada has been low throughout the pandemic and has not increased back at the same pace it did in the U.S.

“In recent months, we’ve certainly seen a major uptake in travel and the usage of this solution, so we are very pleased with the trajectory so far,” he adds, noting that July 2022 usage is tracking to be double that of June 2022. “We are extremely pleased with the trajectory of the platform.”

“I think that this is a great service that, really at the end of the day, makes everybody’s business better,” Thompson continues. “We are creating more value for the traveler and a more frictionless transaction with us that can happen from the comfort of your Uber, or while you’re in the security line, rather than waiting in the [concessions] line. I think that’s a benefit that should be available to everyone, and I certainly welcome anybody who wants to join. I think the more restaurants that join, really the better the experience for passengers.”

Merrell reports that the Uber Eats app is driving sales at YYZ that otherwise may not have happened because passengers were scared away by long queues at Starbucks, Tim Hortons and other concessions venues.

“People are ordering to give themselves a better sense of comfort rather than walking away from a line,” she remarks. “Early indications are telling us we are in a good news story.”


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