Vancouver Int'l Relishes Role as Official Olympics Airport Supplier

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

It's often said that the first and last impressions of a city are made at the airport. Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is especially cognizant of its unique opportunity to have a lasting, positive effect on travelers as the world's entryway to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

As the first-ever official airport supplier in the Olympics history, Vancouver Airport Authority has specific sponsorship rights for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and is firmly committed to providing world-class operations and services.

Vancouver Airport Authority's manager of retail sales and service programs, Chris Gilliland, says the airport has been very innovative in its groundbreaking partnership with the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC). The airport, Gilliland notes, was actually involved in the bid prior to Vancouver being awarded the Olympic Games.

Facts & Figures

Project: Preparations for 2010 Winter Olympics

Location: Vancouver International Airport

Related Construction:

" $200 million International West Wing Expansion (36,000 square meters) - 2007

" $113 million C Pier Expansion (15,000 square meters) - 2009

" 6 Olympics-branded Retail Stores - 2009

Architects: Stantec, Maxam Design, Gustavson Wylie

Concessionaires: The Paradies Shops, Hudson Group, HMS Host

"The official supplier relationship is not exclusively a product or concession relationship," he explains. "It is the airport as a whole and has many components. Our partnership extends well beyond the concessions to operational aspects in terms of assisting with the VANOC meet and greet, parking and buses, and assistance with ground transportation."

Intent on providing smooth, seamless and exceptional travel experiences to all passengers, Vancouver Airport Authority enhanced facilities, passenger services and its existing customer care program to ensure success before, during and after the 2010 Winter Games.

Expansions & Renovations

While no expansions were required specifically for the Games, a series of terminal expansions and interior renovations were completed as part of Vancouver Airport Authority's 10-year capital program. Advance planning, however, timed the projects so they could be completed prior to the Winter Games.

Stantec, project architect on YVR's original international terminal, helped the airport prepare for the 2010 games through two major expansions to increase terminal capacities.

The 2007 "West Wing" expansion of the International Terminal added four new gates and 36,000 square meters of new space, including a retail and relaxation zone featuring a two-story aquarium. In 2009, YVR opened an expanded C Pier in the Domestic Terminal, used predominantly by Air Canada. In addition to five new gates, the new footprint allowed the airport to add indigenous artwork and enhanced amenities, including a new retail and food/beverage program, within the 15,000-square-meters expansion. Pre-security in the domestic terminal, YVR added a new retail street with new food/beverage offerings.

It also added an indoor observation deck, complete with telescopes for watching takeoffs and landings. "That has been a phenomenal success," reports Gilliland. "It allows our travelers and the general public to take a look at how an airport operates."

Interior renovation projects included the redesign of the international and transborder pre-board screening facilities and the restructuring of the transborder departures process by placing security prior to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pre-clearance facility. The process included major changes to the baggage system, pre-board screening, upgraded CBP facilities and a large new duty-free store.

YVR further expanded the greeting area for international arrivals with a 24-hour customer information counter and large electronic display boards providing ongoing coverage of Olympic events.

Olympic Branding

In addition to infrastructure changes, Vancouver Airport Authority made way for Olympic-branded merchandise. When Stantec designed three Olympic stores for the airport, it blended the terminal's original design themes with an updated Olympic look and feel.

"It has a very vibrant blue and green palette with a twist to it," says Stanis Smith, Stantec practice leader for Airport Terminal Design. "There are some nice graphic motifs that run through the design to capture the speed and excitement of many of the Olympic events."

YVR partnered with three airport concessionaires - Hudson Group, Paradies Shops and HMSHost - to operate the six Olympic-branded stores. To be adequately prepared, the airport began planning with the group 2 1/2 years in advance.

"One of the first things we did was bring in representatives from other cities that have hosted the Games," Gilliland explains. Delegates from Salt Lake City, for instance, briefed YVR's concessionaires about the opportunities and excitement to expect. "We talked about some of their challenges," Gilliland recalls, "and that was instrumental in making sure that we were fully ready to go."

The airport then worked with its tenants to create Olympic readiness plans to address specific operational concerns.

"One of the things we learned from past games is the importance of having fully stocked shelves at all times," Gilliland relates. "We heard that during peak departure days, merchandise has flown off the shelves and tenants just don't have the support structure to recover from it."

Vancouver Airport Authority consequently provided YVR retail tenants with additional nearby storage space to allow quick replenishment of stock. The airport also significantly extended hours of operation to provide a wider range of food/beverage and retail options from 6 a.m. to midnight. Queuing plans were developed to help tenants manage lines into and out of stores. In addition to improving customer service, the plans should also aid loss prevention.

Spreading the six stores throughout pre- and post-security locations was important. "We are a fairly large, spread-out airport," Gilliland explains.

In addition, the airport augmented its Olympics merchandise exposure with 13 mobile kiosks. Outlets were positioned to reach passengers arriving both domestically and internationally, at regular and commuter gates - "anywhere where we need a little more retail focus," notes Gilliland.

According to Laura Samuels, vice president of corporate communications with Hudson Group, the official Olympics stores are selling a variety of branded merchandise, ranging from the ever-popular 2010 mascots - Miga, Quatchi and Sumi - to a variety of clothing and Canadian-minted gold coins.

The Paradies Shops director of marketing and communications Jill C. Nidiffer reports a run on trademark red mittens, Olympic lapel pins and hoodies and jackets.

On Pins & Needles

In addition to feeding the general frenzy over Olympics merchandise, the airport also created the first-ever airport pin-trading center, located pre-security in the public area near the observation deck.

"Pin trading is the unofficial sport of the Olympics, and we have learned from past experiences that it is a phenomenal success," Gilliland says. "There are three pin-trading centers in Vancouver, and we are the first airport in the history of the Games to ever host an official Coca-Cola Pin Trading Center. We're really excited about it."

Pin traders, he explains, may buy Coca-Cola's pin of the day at the airport trading center or exchange existing pins on a pin wall with a map of the world. "You take a pin you have and place it on the map where you are from, and Coca-Cola will give you a pin in exchange," he explains. "My favorite activity is a photo pin booth where you get your photo taken holding a replica of the Olympic Torch. It will then be printed on an Olympic pin for you."


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