With so many things he would like to enhance at Green Airport, where should Iftikhar Ahmad start?
The Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s president and CEO rhetorically posed that question Wednesday after the grand opening of the Escape Lounge, the first lounge of its kind in the terminal. Indeed, the lounge, which for an entry fee of $45 offers the traveler unlimited beverages, locally prepared foods and access to WiFi, is a great amenity.
Ahmad notes that Boston’s Logan has four lounges. This will be the first of its kind for Green. The lounge is located on the ground level of the end of the north concourse in an area that once served for boarding of smaller express flights. It is one of eight airport lounges in this country owned and operated by Manchester Airport Group that owns three airports in Great Britain, according to Sid Higgins, vice president of Commercial Escape Lounges based in Chicago.
Ahmad sees the lounge as part of a series of improvements over the next couple of years that will upgrade the terminal, giving it a fresh feel and making it a first class gateway to Rhode Island.
“We’re always looking for one magic bullet,” Ahmad says of the human response to addressing a problem. In the case of improving the airport experience, RIAC is working on an array of things, he said.
And one of the first places RIAC will start is with terminal restrooms. He said no matter how well they are cleaned, terminal restrooms look tired. In addition, while the stalls in the women’s restrooms are the size of those in the men’s restrooms, they are cramped. That’s going to change
“Let them know they have arrived at a good place,” Ahmad said of those using the airport.
While Ahmad says it’s not sexy, he wants the terminal to have “four-star restrooms.”
Work on improved restrooms is scheduled to start in July and be phased in over a period of time. The projected cost is $3.5 million for the terminal’s four sets of restrooms.
Close on the heels of the restrooms will be a revamping of terminal concessions. RIAC issued a request for proposals (RFP) in March for food/beverage concessions and retail (news, gifts and specialty retail) concessions. The airport has a total of 29 concessions that is broken down between 12 food/beverage concessions, nine retail concessions and eight kiosks with gross revenues of $23.1 million in 2018, according to financial data provided in the RFP.
As RIAC is paid a percentage of gross revenues, Ahmad said the selection committee reviewing the proposals will be looking at the number, but it won’t necessarily be the determining factor. What he is putting first is the build out appearance of the concession and what it will be selling and at what price. The opening instruction of the RFP calls on qualified parties to submit proposals for the financing, design construction and operation of “first class, reasonably priced concessions at the airport.”
“This is part of the first impression,” Ahmad said of terminal concessions.
The question he sees the selection committee asking of proposals is, “Would our folks like it?” As important is whether the new look of the concession will enhance the airport.
Proposals were due May 9, with the interview and selection process to start May 21 and run through May 29. RIAC board approval and contract extensions are slated to occur on June 13 with designs finalized and approved December 1. Existing contracts would expire by June 30, 2020.
Yet on another front, Ahmad is seeking to make the terminal a personally more friendly and welcoming place, with the introduction of a team of volunteer greeters to address such questions as how to connect with mass transit, where to find car rentals and how to get information on hotels. Ahmad said Timothy Pimental, who is overseeing the effort, is in the process of recruiting volunteers.
Volunteers will primarily be situated at the Information Center on the arrivals level to answer questions, give directions and provide visitor collateral. Volunteers will also be present both pre- and post-security to assist departing passengers. People interested in becoming part of this exciting new volunteer program should email email@example.com.