Heathrow Terminal 5: retail destination or gateway to Britain?

LONDON - Heathrow Terminal 5, with its retail-focused design and digital advertising sites, promises to deliver a unique retail and brand experience. But critics say an airport should be more than a 'glorified shopping centre' and provide a gateway to British culture.

Heathrow Terminal 5: retail destination or gateway to Britain?

On 27 March, British Airways will open the doors to its much-anticipated Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5). The building, which took 18 years and £4.3bn to build, is home to 112 shops and restaurants, including Harrods, Tiffany & Co and Gordon Ramsay's exclusive Plane Food restaurant, and is revolutionary in terms of its design and the retail experience it offers.

The state-of-the art terminal will handle about 30m passengers a year, and brands will jostle for supremacy within a retail and leisure complex that is at the heart of the building's design. According to Heathrow owner BAA, all T5's tenant brands were encouraged to provide evidence of innovations in their service or store design concepts that would contribute to making travelling from the terminal a unique experience.

The Thomas Pink shop, for example, includes a 'Pink Business Bar', which will screen the latest FTSE share prices on a pink LED display, and Paul Smith's 'Globe' store concept features original doors from a French chateau, as well as an art gallery and reading room.

Moreover, brands including Bulgari, Links of London and Chocolate Box will sell products exclusive to T5, and Krispy Kreme is introducing a limited-edition T5 doughnut, 'The Strawberry Promise'.

World Duty Free, which operates 62 stores across seven UK BAA airports and was recently acquired by Italy's Autogrill for £546.6m, hired JHP to design its T5 store concept as it seeks to reposition itself as a department store-style retailer.

The biggest of its seven T5 stores will house a food hall, tasting bar, experiential area and a Diageo-sponsored cocktail bar crowned by a 7m chandelier light fixture. 'The cocktail bar epitomises Diageo's vision of the

future of travel retail, which is centred on amazing experiences for shoppers and travellers,' says Ron Anderson, managing director, global travel & Middle East at Diageo.

Retail-focused experience

However, not all industry experts are impressed by T5's retail-focused design. Peter Knapp, airline branding expert and creative director at design agency Landor, believes that as a 'gateway to British culture' the building should be more than a 'glorified shopping centre'. 'BAA has seen to it that literally everything is for sale. The world's major airports should act as travel ports while reflecting the essence of the country's culture, like Oslo Airport,' he adds.

As well as being a unique retail experience, BAA is optimistic about T5's potential appeal to advertisers. According to Julie France, managing director at Heathrow's outdoor advertising sales contractor, JCDecaux Airport, the combination of digital and traditional outdoor formats at T5 will bring additional advertisers to the airport medium.

JCDecaux Airport has invested £25m in poster and digital advertising sites that enable advertisers to buy space for shorter periods. It is also operating an experiential marketing space in the check-in area that will be seen by 75% of the terminal's total potential audience.

Current advertisers at T5 include Visa, which has snapped up its four giant 29m x 36m lightboxes. These are the terminal's most high-profile spots, dominating the ticket presentation channels and targeting all travellers as they pass through to the departures area.

Samsung will use the terminal to promote its F110 miCoach, a sports and music phone created with Adidas.

According to Joseph Rhee, European client services director at Samsung's ad agency, Cheil Worldwide, T5 is an ideal environment for the launch campaign. 'Premium international travellers are early adopters of new technology and key influencers within their social network,' he says, adding that airport advertising has already helped Samsung to build its premium and increase global brand awareness.

The World Duty Free store will feature a 4m x 8m 'Art Wall' comprising 48 high-definition Sony TV screens. These will be available to brands - Bombay Sapphire is the launch advertiser - and will also screen major UK events such as the Wimbledon Championships. 'The Art Wall will play a major part in positioning World Duty Free in Terminal 5 as the UK's biggest experiential multimedia advertising opportunity outside Leicester Square,' says Mark Riches, managing director of World Duty Free.

However, Paul Charles, head of media at Virgin Atlantic, BA's biggest rival, says that 'big doesn't necessarily mean beautiful' and claims Virgin Atlantic will 'out-small' BA in terms of airport experience. 'The plus side [of T5's retail focus] is that there will be plenty of places to go shopping when your BA flight is delayed,' he snipes.

Nonetheless, the Branson-owned airline showed itself to be on the defensive in January, when it launched a £6m ad campaign promoting the launch of its Upper Class Wing at Heathrow's Terminal 3 (T3) ahead of T5's opening.

Indeed, the operation to upgrade T3 to create a BA oneworld hub ahead of the 2012 London Olympics indicates that, despite rivals' criticisms, T5's design is likely to provide a blueprint for further development at Heathrow and other UK airports, and to set an international standard for global airport termini.

Data file: Heathrow Terminal 5
  • Heathrow Terminal 5 cost £4.3bn to build, of which BA contributed £330m.
  • It is 40m tall and 396m long.
  • T5 will handle 30m passengers a year - 90,000 a day on average.
  • It contains 96 check-in kiosks.
  • The baggage system can handle up to 12,000 bags an hour.
  • Six business-class lounges will cater for 2500 passengers at a cost of £60m.
  • The building will contain three Elemis day spas.
  • It will also house 112 food outlets and shops, including Harrods and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.
  • A £180m, 600-room luxury hotel - The Sofitel London Heathrow - will open at T5 this summer.
  • The terminal will handle 90% of British Airways flights.
  • The complex has 20 interior and nine exterior poster sites.
  • It also offers 200 digital advertising locations.