FINLAND. HMSHost International’s ambitious Pier Zero café/restaurant has opened at Helsinki Airport, representing a “landmark achievement” in Finavia’s extensive overhaul of F&B and retail there.
Walter Seib, CEO of HMSHost International, said that the company, in cooperation with airport operator Finavia, wanted to “do something special” to provide an iconic, flagship outlet to top off the airport revamp, which has already seen about 70 new or updated restaurants and shops open in the last two years as part of a major upgrade.
Pier Zero represented an architectural challenge as a “building within a building”
“One and a half years ago we secured a contract with Helsinki Airport to develop 13 units – some smaller, some larger – and the absolute landmark and most important one is Pier Zero,” he said.
“We have been able to open certain units already, and this new facility is a milestone in the achievements we have made, together with the airport, and it is worth celebrating this transformation of the F&B offering at Helsinki.”
Helsinki Airport Director Ville Haapasaari, of Finavia, agreed: “Pier Zero is one of the [airport service] update’s most ambitious yet challenging projects. Building a two-storey restaurant inside a terminal building in continuous use is not the easiest construction project. However, the results show that the hard work paid off – we now have a new, impressive landmark at the airport.”
The café/restaurant features a Finnish/Nordic kitchen with an international twist
Looking at the wider picture, Haapasaari said the airport revamp was necessary as part of Finavia’s plan to make Helsinki a hub airport between Europe and Asia, with a total of €1 billion invested into the overall development project.
With the airport targeting 20 million passengers by 2020, Haapasaari said the customer experience, of which retail and F&B is a fundamental part, was vital to fulfilling these ambitions. “Service level is one thing in which you can really differentiate yourself from other airports,” he noted. “Even more important than contributing direct revenue is how this contributes to the overall passenger experience.”
He said that the offer would also take into account the diverse needs of the ever increasing passenger volume, with Russia and China identified as key markets.
HMSHost ran an architectural competition for the first time in its history for the Pier Zero project
Pier Zero was designed by architect Roger Copeland, owner of Zurich, Switzerland-based Detail Design, who called the project the company’s “most important ever” and the “highlight” of his career as an entrepreneur and designer.
Copeland was inspired by nature and technology and particularly the eagle. The skeletal system of a bird forms the basic shape and structure of the design of Pier Zero, which “represents people’s drive to travel and to have freedom”.
Explaining the name Pier Zero he said: “The terminology ‘pier’ reflects what can be found to thousands in Finland’s lake shores and the ‘zero’ stands for the starting point of travellers’ journeys.”
Seib said the Pier Zero project was the first time HMSHost had ever run an architectural competition to create the design, with Detail Design’s proposal instantly winning the hearts of both the Autogrill Group company and Finavia.
“Roger was able to create a vision of Finland, nature and aviation and we knew we needed to have this,” he said, noting that both companies had to go back to their respective boards to gain approval for the additional investment needed to give Copeland’s concept the go-ahead.
A launch party was held at the restaurant to mark its official opening
Seib also noted the importance of Sense of Place to both Pier Zero and the wider F&B offering at the airport, where SSP also has units along with local brands. “The right mix of concepts is essential to the success of the F&B concession programme of an airport, and it is the mix between international brands and local concepts and flavours.”
For example, HMSHost developed a Burger King outlet at the airport, an international brand, but also has both Pier Zero and the recently-opened Arctic Bar, which the former featuring a Finnish/Nordic kitchen with an international twist. Indeed, to further demonstrate the point Seib said that every dish at Pier Zero contains at least one Finnish ingredient.
This Victoria’s Secret store is another new opening and is the first anywhere in Finland
Although recognising the importance of Pier Zero, Finavia Vice President, Commercial Services Elena Stenholm said Helsinki’s commercial offering was “by no means ending here”. She acknowledged that the airport would have to continue to work on its retail offering, while adding “some basic services the airport should have”, particularly in the area of wellbeing. The appointment of World Duty Free Group to operate the duty free store had, however, “upgraded it to international level”.
Some outlets are still to be opened, before attention turns to further airport improvement works. Looking to the future, Stenholm said Finavia would attempt to add an extra 3-5 retail spots while improving the number and standard of pop-ups and promotional spots, among a series of other developments.
The Arctic Bar, another HMSHost unit, is among a number to evoke Sense of PlaceThe airport’s Beauty Store features a number of popular brandsFinavia’s intention with the service upgrade was to mix international and local conceptsAn exterior terrace at the Arctic Bar overlooks the airport runways