A-plus for atmosphere; Z for Zinfandel in Zürich

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

A quick trip to Zürich yesterday left me a few hours to experience the commercial offering at the airport, which has benefited hugely from the recent creation of a centralised security operation, complemented by revamped walkthrough Departures duty free shops run by The Nuance Group.

Love them or hate them, there’s no question that walk-through stores are a winning formula. Last week I was at Geneva Airport and it’s interesting to contrast the impact of the walk-through Arrivals store there and the non-walk-through Arrivals environment in Zürich.

With the Swiss Franc standing at 1.21 to the Euro (the government intervened last year to keep it from moving beyond the 1.20 barrier), Nuance needs all the help it can get, and walk-through is undoubtedly a huge lever, for footfall of course but also of conversion.

It was noticeable yesterday in Zürich how few arriving travellers were going into the store, even though it is right alongside the baggage hall.

 [One passenger stops on arrival at Zürich but the walk-through formula, below, has huge advantages]

[Walk-through in Geneva]

No-one can miss the store and its openness and attractive design seem alluring. But here’s the thing – at Geneva, travellers are by definition in the store and my wholly unscientific comparison showed clearly which outlet was attracting the greater number of browsers.

Later in the day I did my best to raise the airport’s average spend per departing passenger (CHF39.40/US$41.29) across its commercial offer. The airport outlets both helped and hindered that aim in various ways.

I commented on the excellence of the Lindt boutique on the day of the Grand Opening in December. That was amid the glare of publicity and the presence of many VIPS. Yesterday was just a quiet trading day and I slipped into the store unannounced and unknown.

I don’t know the confiseur’s (chocolate maker) name but he should be awarded a gold medal (chocolate of course) by Lindt, Nuance and Zürich Airport. Noticing me admiring the loose chocolates and variously flavoured slabs, he offered me a couple of delectable samples and, along with a colleague, showed me a selection of items in the store. He was enthusiastic, personable, knowledgeable.

It’s another winning formula. Two slabs of cranberry-studded dark chocolate and a gift box of loose, wrapped nut chocolates later, I was CHF29.10 towards that average spend.

Next stop was Center Bar, run by SSP, and awarded the title of the world’s best airport bar at The Moodie Report’s inaugural Airport Food & Beverage Awards last year.

With a weak but brilliant winter sun shining in through the giant glass panels that allow the traveller to look out over the tarmac and the lovely views beyond, it’s a terrific place to take a coffee, a beer or a light meal in the late afternoon. But not, it seems, a glass of Swiss wine.

With 45 minutes to go before my flight, and a long day behind me, a glass of crisp dry white from, say, Appenzell, Neuchâtel, Valais or Vaud would have been just the thing.

“Sorry, we don’t sell Swiss wine,” said the polite young lady in an impeccable Swiss accent. “We have Pinot Grigio from Italy or Chardonnay from California.” Or Zinfandel Blush, also from the USA.

In fact the real blush here should belong to the sourcing team for neglecting local produce.

Curious. Swiss is a quality wine-producing country (although it tends to keep the best for domestic consumption rather than export) and proud of it. Center Bar offers Swiss beer and Swiss Kirsch but no Swiss wine. Yes, the country’s wines tend (by dint of small production) to be more expensive than Italian Pinot Grigio or Beringer Chardonnay, but most travellers would be happy to pay the difference to get a taste of Switzerland.

What a pity. It’s such a nice, tranquil bar, Roger Federer-like in its serenity (with particular appropriateness, a singer-guitarist (below) was playing ‘Sounds of Silence’ as travellers relaxed before their flights).  Oddly, it also lacked a flight information display screen, something I would consider crucial to an airport catering outlet.

I parted, slightly reluctantly, with CHF6.90 for a glass of Pinot Grigio. But at CHF36.00 I was still short of the average spend. Zürich Airport’s Senior Vice President Commercial Marketing & Real Estate Patrick Graf would be disappointed in me.

Time was now tight and I started the long journey to my gate. On the way, I found the perfect opportunity to top up my spend and take home that taste of Switzerland I was deprived of at the Center Bar. It’s called The Spirit of Switzerland, also run by The Nuance Group, and it’s packed with Swiss foods, souvenirs, gifts and an outstanding local wine selection, beautifully displayed.

I eyed a range of bottles. But I don’t know Swiss wine well and needed some advice. Problem. There was no-one on hand to help me. No-one behind the counter. In fact, was there anyone, other than me, in the store?

It’s a very long shop and way down the other end I could make out what I took to be a shop assistant. But she was too far away and time was too short. So… no Swiss wine. No spend in this store. Around the edges of retail, as it were, are fortunes (or at least incremental spend) won or lost.

Zürich Airport has come a long way in terms of its commercial offer. In my view it now ranks as one of the most consumer-orientated, traveller-friendly airports in the world, thanks to enlightened management and a pro-active, partnership-driven relationship with generally excellent concessionaires.

Some fine-tuning (with a bit of help from the Swiss Franc) and some fine Swiss wine in F&B and it could be even better.

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