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Heathrow Terminal 2: ‘the ‘getting it right’ side of airport retailing’

By Sally Alington, Managing Director, Blackjack Promotions

Heathrow’s new £2.5bn Terminal 2 (T2) opened its doors last month to great fanfare and will soon be home to 26 airlines flying 332 flights a day to more than 50 destinations. Named ‘The Queen’s Terminal’, T2 is located on the site of the old Terminal 2 at Heathrow, which is about the only thing the new building has in common with its predecessor which closed in 2009 after 54 years in operation.

After months of preparation, opening day arrived on 4th June and, all in all, it went without a hitch. The first flight, a United Airlines plane from Chicago, touched down at 05.49 BST as the new terminal welcomed its first passengers with an added extra ‘British Welcome’ from staff in Beefeater costumes. The terminal operated at 10% of capacity on the first day and despite some additional airline moves over to T2 last week, it will be some months before all future T2 airlines operate from the new terminal. However what was clear to see on day one and ever since, is that the hard work and preparation that went into the launch certainly paid off.

It goes without saying that the media have been purring about all things T2: the design, the ease of use and of course the incredible retail experience it now offers. I personally feel that T2 epitomises the ‘getting it right’ side of airport retailing. This was so important for Heathrow who have been the world leader in airport retailing for some time with advanced marketing, shopper loyalty schemes, destination focuses and the Skytrax best airport retail award for the past 5 years. In short, T2’s retail experience needed to be as good as Heathrow Terminal 5 and certainly better than, Paris, Amsterdam and other major European airports, and in my opinion it is doing pretty well so far.

At Blackjack – and our parent company Omniserv – we are playing a key part every day at T2 to help ensure the passenger experience is taken to a new level. Not only do we provide a range of services from passenger service ambassadors, inter-terminal bus connections and helping passengers with reduced mobility, but we’re committed to improving the shopping experience for passengers with our numerous retail specialists. We have one end goal: creating a seamless and excellent end-to-end passenger experience.

In terms of retail, the overall offering at T2 has been styled on the successful T5 model with a distinct focus on the ‘Best of British’ and creating a ‘sense of place’, boasting a range of stores from iconic British designers and restaurants from celebrity chefs, as well as the first-ever John Lewis travel retail store.  In my view two of T2’s new retail concepts exemplify this extraordinary commitment to airport retail development: the new revolutionary World Duty Free (WDF) store and the pioneering concept of the WDF Destination Bar.

The new-look World Duty Free (WDF) store is a fantastic concept which now offers travellers the ultimate luxury: their own concierge service. This personal shopping and information service offers products and advice in a relaxed, pressure-free manner, ending those panic moments when you are blindly seeking out gifts or not sure of how long you have to shop before your flight leaves.

Another landmark retail achievement at T2 is the development of the Destination Bar, an outlet that is sure to be a magnet for holidaymakers and business travellers. The Destination Bar is a moveable feast – a lit-up bar that changes lighting and branding up to four times a day to meet the changing passenger profile with the right specialist staff to match. I have no doubt both of these ventures will be a hit.

Across Omniserv and Blackjack, we drew upon our experience of living through the trials and tribulations of the opening of Terminal 5 and the past 18 years of providing people in airports to help the launch be a success. In fact we had already delivered 5,000 shifts before the terminal even opened, working on familiarisation tours with airport stakeholders and trials of the operation to ensure that everything would run smoothly from the outset. In total, we recruited 229 staff members for this purpose alone, 50 of whom will be on site today for The Royal Visit, indicating the size and scale of the entire project.

All in all, helping with the opening of the new T2 has required a lot of work, dedication and man-hours. We feel rewarded by the whole experience, but expect the bigger payoff to come over time, when we see the faces of holidaymakers and business travellers light up as they embrace this wholly new airport experience.  Here’s hoping the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh have time today to relax and enjoy some of these things that make T2 totally unique.