ACI-NA Concessions Awards Tips by Benét J. Wilson

ACI-NA Concessions Awards Tips by Benét J. Wilson

It seems like yesterday that the judges for the 2016 ACI-NA Excellence in Airport Concessions Awards.  It has been my honor and pleasure to be one of the judges for this important program since 2008. 

The winner of the 2017 Richard A. Griesbach Award of Excellence went to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for a number of reasons. We were very impressed with the breadth and depth of its food/beverage, retail and service offerings. But we also had high praise for Boise Airport and its efforts. It’s not easy to stand out in a sea of larger competitors, but Boise was very effective in doing that, as revealed in the other awards it won.

So what makes for a winning entry? The judges like concepts that put a new spin on an existing product and brands it.  A good example of this is the Gold Key Services Parking at Pittsburgh International Airport, which offers close-in, reserved parking, a real convenience for its best customers.

Another example was the winning entry of the 7-Eleven at Los Angeles International Airport in the Best New News & Gift Concept. This is a hard category, because there’s only so many ways to brand news and gifts that are different. But this concept is great convenience for travelers and employees alike, and having Slurpees in the mix didn’t hurt. 

The judges liked entries that showed a strong sense of place, like food trucks at Portland International Airport and Indianapolis International Airport with restaurants like home-town favorite Harry & Izzys.

On the retail side, awards were given to the “Channel Your Inner Chef “contest at Chicago O’Hare and Minneapolis-St. Paul’s PGA MSP Golf Shop. The former, which offered live cooking contents, was seen as innovative while the latter was lauded for using a unique space to offer a nice mix of a golf experience, food and shopping away from the busy lower terminal.  

So how can you ensure you submit the best application for the 2018 awards? Here are 10 solid tips.

1.  Follow the directions. This sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at applications that were incomplete.

2.  Show us the money. It’s great to have a strong concept, but we also need to see that it is actually bringing in revenue for the airport.

3.  Work together. It was clear that there was no coordination between concessionaires and airports with some submissions. Reach out and discuss what concepts will be submitted for awards. Each side may learn something.

4.  Include testimonials. Good applications used things like short videos and positive social media comments touting the concept being submitted.

5.  Give more details for Concession Person of the Year. Give the judges specifics of what they did for the airport. Have a good mix of recommendation letters. One year, we had a tight race for this award and the winner was chosen because the airport director wrote a strong and effective recommendation letter. ​

6.  Step it up with the Green Practice/Concept category. Sorting trash or recycling oil isn’t enough to win this award anymore. A good example of this is the Organics Waste Recycling Program at  Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that won in 2012.

7.  Use professional photos and airport maps. Do NOT use smartphone cameras for your photos. And please refrain from showing staff or those blurred shots of people walking by the concept. Include pictures that show what the concept looks like (1-2 food photos are OK) along with an airport map to show us where it is.

8.  Be original. If you submit the same concept for different categories, don’t submit the exact same presentation. Give each concept a unique presentation.

9.  Don’t be afraid to submit an application. We always want to see more entries from smaller airports and from airport in Canada. Sacramento won the Griesbach award in 2012 against some pretty stiff competition, and Boise Airport was a strong contender in 2016. So take a hard look at your concessions and see which ones you think are winning concepts.

10.  Have an independent person review your application. Let someone on your staff that wasn’t involved in writing the application take a look at it. A fresh pair of eyes can catch errors or bring to light  different ways of presenting an application. 

In the end, it’s all about putting the concept in the best possible light. The judges said: "If you can't sell the concept, why should we buy it?"