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10 years on: How Heathrow T5 brought travel retail into the 21st century

It’s hard to believe that Terminal 5 (T5) opened a decade ago at Heathrow. What’s even more exciting is to reflect on the impact T5 had on the travel retail industry and on experiential marketing within an airport environment.

There have been many revolutionary and innovative activations, and Blackjack has been privileged to be at the heart of a huge number of them, working with famous brands, including L’Oréal, COTY, Diageo and William Grants, as well as key retailers such as World Duty Free, Kate Spade and Tiffany & Co.

Terminal 5’s retail outlets now drive more revenue per square foot than the same retailers’ flagship Oxford Street stores. What’s even more incredible is the fact that since 2008, 277 million passengers have passed through T5, making more than 428 million retail transactions.

So it’s great to see Heathrow celebrating such a milestone in travel retail history, with a range of events and offers, including inviting passengers to build a giant LEGO Birthday card, roving musicians and discounts at outlets including Gordon Ramsay, Paul Smith, Reiss and Harrods.

At the official ribbon cutting ceremony March 14, 2008, The Queen described Terminal 5 as “a 21st Century gateway to Britain.” It’s now a decade later and the terminal has certainly lived up to that legacy.

Terminal 5 is still innovative and exciting, even 10 years on. That’s because Heathrow, the retailers, the brands and the services providers behind what goes on every day at T5 are constantly being challenged to deliver the best possible experience for passengers. So many T5 passengers are business flyers who use it all the time; they expect to be surprised and delighted by what’s in the shops and what’s happening around them. The retail experience becomes a key reason for using Heathrow and Terminal 5.

Retailers and brands are aware of this – and it means they are constantly introducing new products and services and investing in new store designs and marketing activities.

Terminal 5 is British Airways’ flagship terminal, with flights departing to major destinations around the world. It is a global hub, and culturally very broad. What retailers and brands do has to reflect this and leverage it.

There’s also a lot of space for experiential activities within T5, including ‘contentainment’ and ‘retailtainment’ with World Duty Free. Passengers are consumers, after all, and they’ve become used to being entertained as they’re shopping in malls and shopping centres. T5 delivers all of that, and more. Shopping is no longer about filling basic human needs – it’s about theatre.

The other things about T5 is how it has managed to stay at the forefront of technological innovation for 10 years – not just in terms of digital screens and other high tech communications tools that allow brands and retailers to communicate with people, but in everything, from the infrastructure through to the way passengers move around – Heathrow introduced the ULTra (Urban Light Transit) PODCAR system in 2010, which features zero-emission battery operated vehicles (the pods) which have carried millions of passengers and eliminated the need for hundreds of thousands of bus journeys in that time.

So here’s to Terminal 5 and the impact it has had on the travel retail industry; what an amazing decade of wonderful shops, services and overall passenger experience – Happy Birthday, T5!

By Fiona Tindall, Head of Domestic Retail at Blackjack Promotions