ESTONIA. Baltona Duty Free, a division of Flemingo International Group, has celebrated the official launch of its duty free concession at Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport. As reported, the opening took place on 21 June.

The store design celebrates Estonian culture and natural heritage through a shopper journey modelled on a fairy tale walk through a forest.

Local brands stand shoulder to shoulder with major international names.

As Baltona’s first branded retail presence in the Baltic states, the radically enhanced floor space (980sq m) is the centrepiece of a major development programme by airport operator Tallinn Airport Ltd. The revamp is intended to express a strong local flavour at the airport that styles itself as ‘the cosiest airport in the world’.

The main 800sq m duty free store incorporates Tallinn’s first walk-through format and the core categories (liquor, P&C, confectionery, tobacco, fashion & accessories) offer a strong local brand presence. This includes Estonia’s favourite confectionery brand, Kalev, Liviko spirits, A. Le Coq beers and Lumene in skincare.

Two other new stores, totalling 180sq m, offer last-minute shops for transferring and Non-Schengen passengers.

Seating areas offer an opportunity to rest and break up the walk-through experience.

The traditional ribbon-cutting opening ceremony was performed by Baltona Duty Free CEO Piotr Kazimierski and Tallinn Airport CEO Piret Mürk-Dubout. Traditional Estonian dancers performed routines across the store. The dances reflected traditional forest fairy tales, the central theme in the store’s design.

Kazimierski outlined the importance of Baltona’s new expression at Tallinn Airport: “Talllinn is a key destination airport in the region so it is a vital part of our growing portfolio and it offers a unique expression of what Estonia is all about, including the pride of the people and the country’s natural beauty.

“If it’s done in the right way, Sense of Place is something that sells very well; it’s something that passengers are looking for, and airports too. At major destination hubs you can see that Sense of Place is perhaps easier, not least in the need to ‘invest to express’, and that’s obviously harder for a small airport to do.

The store design celebrates Estonian culture and natural heritage.

“Of course, you also need the right partners and there are lots of economic details to address, such as capital expenditure and concession terms. But if you can find a way to make it happen then I think the payback can be very strong. I think you must do it because it works; it sells, people like it, they talk about it, word spreads very quickly; and so it grows and you sell more. It’s an investment and we’re now working on the best way to capitalise on that.”

Kazimierski noted that the large floor space dedicated to duty free was “perhaps a big space for the size of this growing airport” but said the strong local brands enabled the company “to create something unique through brand personalisations that look engaging and appealing”.

He added: “This unique local character is shared across the whole store, such as the beautiful seating areas. The management at Tallinn Airport has embedded a sense of cosiness throughout the airport and its staff, creating a feeling of friendliness in every area of the terminal. The retail space needs to share this same spirit of cosiness, and if some of the store’s features have never been seen in an airport before then this might well provoke the passengers to stop and think and investigate further – and that’s a good thing!”

Kazimierski said the scale of the store was a crucial factor in enabling Baltona to create the right quality of retail experience for the passenger. “It’s an exciting store but it’s also practical, including a wide walk-through pathway enabling passengers to flow seamlessly through the store with no rushing or crowding – I don’t think a single centimetre of space is wasted,” he said.

“At Baltona we are in the business of destination airports and every location – even when comparing airports within a single country, such as our operations across Polish airports – offers differences that with a shared approach can be used to make a unique and memorable experience for the passenger.”

Tallinn Airport’s Mürk-Dubout emphasised the airport’s holistic approach to the customer experience and its role in brand building, which she sees as increasingly vital for all airports: “Our whole airport is a concept, we want to develop not only our brand building but also Tallinn as a destination.

“We provide a high quality service and comfort for the passenger as a foundation but our aim across the whole airport experience, in everything from design to services to food & beverage, is to express the warmth and nature of Tallinn. We want to surprise the customer in every area of their airport experience.”

One example is the gate retail area. “The bookstore has links with the local library,” noted Mürk-Dubout. “We have a local fitness brand, MyFitness, that operates the first ever gym at a European airport and we also have a branded children’s play area. The point is that these brand experiences not only give us new options for the customer and deliver powerful local links to Tallinn but they are commercially effective too.

“In a way, we are even branding nature into the passenger journey by making Estonia’s natural heritage, especially the forests, the central focus of this new duty free store’s design. This resonates with our passengers; it catches their attention, drives footfall and conversion and brings them back to us.”

The wood theme blends with modern technology through the use of huge digital screens that have wooden surrounds.

Airports must move beyond the old attitude of providing a functional service from ‘A to B’ and evolve into a much more experiential approach, she said. “This demands a more commercially-focused approach that creates a smoother, easier and more satisfying journey for the customer.

“This strategy is also a reflection of the greatly increasing competition between airports. Passengers across all profile types are increasingly selecting their airports not simply through checking airlines and schedules but, whenever possible, also by the quality of the airport experience. It’s a service experience and every part of the customer journey is a contributor to the quality of the overall experience.

“I’m delighted for my team that our efforts to do exactly that have been recognised this week in the ACI Europe awards, for Best European Airport under 5 million passengers, and I’m confident that the new Baltona stores will further strengthen the customer experience at Tallinn Airport.”

Cosy – with a commercial edge

The design of the retail space, by London-based travel retail design specialists The Design Solution, aims to blend traditional elements of Estonian culture with leading-edge technology. An emphasis has been placed on local natural materials, particularly in the use of wood.

The Design Solution Director Nick Taylor outlined the role of design in expressing Tallinn’s unique Sense of Place: “The design of the main free store was envisaged as absolutely integral to the airport’s pledge to be ‘the world’s cosiest airport’,” he said. “We aimed to make it cosy – with a commercial edge. The design uses traditional elements of Estonian culture and has a huge emphasis on local natural materials, particularly in the strong use of local timbers to reflect the fact that around half of Estonia’s land area is covered by forests.

“In fact, the store journey is themed as a forest walk, including wonderful semi-private seating areas that provide a break in the walk. These are decorated with themed graphics in a traditional woodcut style that echo classic fairy tales. In a whimsical touch, the walk-through pathway even features subtle decorative signs in the floor that guide shoppers through the store, like breadcrumbs guiding characters through the forest in a fairy tale.”

The Design Solution Director Nick Taylor believes there are lessons to be learnt for other airports.

Taylor added: “The dominance of local wood is physical as well as spiritual, such as in the ‘cut logs’ effect ceiling features and the warm tones used throughout, giving the whole space a natural, cosy warmth and beauty. The wood theme also blends brilliantly with modern technology through the huge digital screens that have wooden surrounds. The first large screen is a great welcoming encounter and further screens are spread through the store to share promotions and messaging.”

The Design Solution believed it was important for the space to be a part of the fabric of the airport, generating a seamless experience. “To complement the natural, warm finishes, orange tones, and birch plywood surfaces, we engaged local artists to bring another layer of Estonian culture, including graphics on the walls and the ‘secret’ seating areas,” he explained. “These are bordered by wooden slatted enclosures featuring products such as perfume bottles displayed in ‘ice’ blocks.

“I think Tallinn has a particularly striking Sense of Place that provides a very useful lesson for airports of every size across the globe in that the airport’s personality is driven as much by the spirit of the place as by the physical design. Tallinn Airport has clearly worked very hard to deliver a holistic approach that drives exceptional quality across every aspect of the customer journey and they understand that the retail journey has to share that same spirit. Our design aims to blend with the genuine warmth and authenticity of the welcome by creating a stress-free, engaging retail adventure that shares local stories and a local spirit of hospitality.”

The key is that Tallinn has a clear identity, unlike some airports. “It talks to its passengers in a single tone of voice, and it’s a voice that makes you feel instantly at ease, un-pressured, and free to explore, engage and relax,” said Taylor. “We’ve had a wonderfully open and shared conversation with Baltona and the airport throughout this project. One of the key differences I see at Tallinn Duty Free is that, across the categories, the major brands don’t overwhelm the design concept.

“There’s a fantastic harmony that blends brand presence with the local stories that we share through the space. Tallinn Airport and Baltona should be congratulated not only for their remarkable spirit of cooperation but for sharing with The Design Solution in ensuring that the local story is fully expressed by the scale and quality of the retail space.

“Rather than the major brands wholly dominating the space – which is the norm at most airports – they’re actually better expressed by being integrated into the local story and, crucially, the local brands stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Hopefully, there is a lesson there for other airports and retailers to learn from.”

Traditional Estonian dancers performed during the Grand Opening.