GOAA Chief talks the ‘Orlando retail experience’

By Faye Bartle |

Orlando International Airport's Terminal C.

Kevin J. Thibault, Chief Executive Officer,
GOAA. Right: The Universal Orlando resort store at MCO’s new Terminal C.

Kevin J. Thibault, CEO of Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA), tells TRBusiness why the dynamic concessions programme at Orlando International Airport’s (MCO) new US$2.8 billion Terminal C is delivering a boost for business and inspiring a new vision for retail.

There’s lots to admire about Orlando International Airport’s new Terminal C, which opened in September 2022 following decades in the planning and nearly five years of construction.

The $2.8 billion project brings 15 additional gates to the hub, upping MCO’s passenger capacity by 25% (10-12 million annual passengers) in the process.

Designed by Fentress Architects, together with HNTB as architect of record, the hi-tech terminal is designed to make the passenger journey as seamless and stress-free as possible.

Among the future- forward elements at play are automated screening lanes in Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints and more than 1,000 high-definition informational displays guiding travellers from check-in through to boarding.

“The development of Terminal C was an opportunity to accomplish a lot of things,” Thibault told TRBusiness in an exclusive interview in the March/April magazine [see below].

“One was getting out in front of the continued growth that we are seeing here at Orlando International Airport. In 2018 we had exceeded 50 million annual passengers coming through the current terminals and there was a need to stay out in front of that.”

Orlando International Airport's Terminal C.

More than 80,000sq ft of dynamic concessions span the pre-security and post-security areas, including storefronts from the region’s top theme park attractions – Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando.

It was a wise move. The hub clocked up nearly 50.2 million travellers in 2022 – a 24% increase over 2021. The hub is anticipating 55 million annual passengers in 2023.

On the passenger rebound, Thibault said: “Part of this is due to the reliance of the region and how they were able to put in place the right protocols to provide the right level of confidence for people to travel to Orlando.

“Our domestic numbers for 2022 actually exceeded those of 2019 by close to 3%. The only difference really was the international passengers, which lagged at the start [of the pandemic]. But overall, we are seeing this robust recovery to the point where we have introduced new routes and new airlines have joined us. It has been a very successful recovery.”

As well as being a way to spread out passenger volumes to another facility and, in turn, improve the customer experience, Terminal C stands out for delivering ‘the Orlando experience’.

Strong Universal Studios store performance

It showcases the natural beauty of Central Florida with its sweeping vistas and the sense of place shines through in the 80,000 square foot retail and dining offer, with ‘dynamic’ concessions spanning pre-security and post- security areas.

Highlights include storefronts from the region’s top theme park attractions: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando, as well as local flavours such as Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Co., Wine Bar George, Orange County Brewers and Cask & Larder.

Orlando International Airport's Terminal C.

Helping to create a sense of place is the Walt Disney World concession at Orlando International Airport’s new Terminal C.

The streamlined layout means more than 90% of concessions are located near the gates. Due to its hi-tech features, the terminal also benefits from an arguably less-frazzled traveller who is more inclined to shop once airside, where the bulk of the attractions reside.

“Absolutely – that’s exactly what we were anticipating and that’s exactly what’s happening,” commented Thibault. “Those passengers who are departing have more time to browse in the store and pick up those last-minute items without worrying about getting through the TSA check point. Just to give you an idea, the Universal Studios store at Terminal C has already exceeded the sales from its stores inside the current terminals [A-B] in terms of volume.”

Engaging shopping experiences blend with eye-catching entertainment. The SeaWorld store features a mesmerising aquarium, while the two-storey Universal Studios shop shows digital content on the big screens. PGA Tour Grill broadcasts PGA tournaments and has a putting green and golf simulator within the space.

‘Retail re-envisioning’ at Terminals A & B

“Clearly the development of the concessions was reflective of where we are at, here in Orlando, and hopefully the passengers will consider that an extension of their vacation and travel experience,” Thibault goes on to say.

The 3Sixty Duty Free store offers a broad range of products and is doing ‘extremely well’, according to Thibault. Due to its status as a large origin-destination airport, a sizeable share of passengers are leisure travellers, although the hub is currently seeing a rise in ‘bleisure’ travellers.

Orlando International Airport's Terminal C.

Orlando International Airport’s Terminal C has a streamlined layout with more than 90% of concessions located near the gates. An innovative skylight diffuses natural light throughout the space.

Construction on four new gates for the terminal is already underway – and there’s more to come.

“Later this year we will commence the efforts to secure a new architect to design Phase 2 of Terminal C that will add anywhere between 15-20 new gates, depending on the concept,” said Thibault.

All of this is in anticipation of future growth as, once Terminal C is completed in its full configuration it will be able to handle 60 million annual passengers.

Thibault said: “With regards to retail, our current Terminals A and B are in a process of a re- envisioning. As we provide the passengers in Terminal C with a new outlook and a new feel, clearly those in A and B are saying: ‘What about me?’.”

MCO’s main terminal opened in 1981. As such, holding areas need to be widened or expanded, accompanying a new retail offer.

“We are getting ready to re-envision what we have in Terminals A and B and that will include new concession concepts following the same approach we have taken in Terminal C, where we have a mix of local flavours with nationally recognised brands,” added Thibault. The concept for this will start developing “over the next year or so” and new tenders will be issued.

“A bunch of those contracts for the current concessions expire at the end of this calendar year so what we are trying to do is determine what is the right way forward for the right improvement, thinking about the bigger vision of where we need to go.”

Whether the airport moves toward a single operator model or continues to have multiple concessionaires as it does currently is on the ‘decision tree’, added Thibault.

To read the full interview with Kevin J. Thibault, click here to the read the TRBusiness March/April edition.

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