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Travelers Quizzed on Airport Amenities

Times Urban Affairs Writer

If passengers at John Wayne Airport get their way, the typical fast-food nosh at the new passenger terminal in 1990 will consist of frozen yogurt, fruit, ice cream or popcorn.

The merchandise offered at the gift shop will be upscale (read pricey), brand-name and of high quality.

Travelers would also like to see a barbershop, a private membership lounge and that special county perk, valet parking.

These were the findings when Miami-based Thompson Consultants International surveyed the tastes of 1,574 John Wayne travelers and of two special focus groups: travel agents and chamber of commerce officials.

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Although the survey was conducted in October, 1987, the results were not released by airport officials until this week, as they began evaluating dozens of bids submitted by vendors competing for valuable sales space in the new terminal.

The structure, part of a $310-million airport expansion program, is scheduled to open April 1, 1990. The affluence of John Wayne Airport patrons is a major draw for vendors, but finding the right mix of food, merchandise and services is an art, not a science, airport officials said.

For example, the survey of passengers’ tastes indicated that alcoholic beverages are passe. But airport officials do not believe it for a minute. They still plan to install a cocktail lounge.

“Although the market survey suggested a high degree of abstinence by travelers at John Wayne, which would suggest a low volume of liquor sales in the terminal, this is not considered reliable data,” the Thompson firm wrote in a report to airport officials.

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“Based on experience with the population at large, at other airports and in the existing cocktail lounge at John Wayne . . . we have ignored the market survey results and estimate that alcohol will amount to one-third of total food and beverage sales at the airport.”

Gross annual sales for food and beverages at John Wayne are expected to top $8.4 million in the new terminal by 1994, according to the report. The county’s projected share, based on a rental rate of 15% of gross sales, would be $1,230,800.

Other findings:

- About 20% of the passengers surveyed said they would often prefer fruit to other snacks; 19% would prefer frozen yogurt; 12%, ice cream, and 11%, popcorn.

- The airport souvenir shop should offer “quality gifts or curios . . . due to the higher income brackets of passengers in the area.”

- About 56% of the travelers using the airport live or work in the county.

- More than 61% are traveling on business.

- Men who are married, 26 to 39 years old, with annual incomes of $40,000 to $74,000, account for 64% of the passengers.

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If you had hopes of playing video games, pinball or buying tobacco at the airport, forget it. County policies bar those activities.

Services such as valet parking and a private lounge may be offered if further studies show that they are feasible. Typically, people react positively to such services in surveys but then do not use them as much as they say they will, the Thompson firm said.

County staff members and officials of the Thompson firm have held talks with executives from Host/Marriott, Burger King, Carl Karcher Enterprises, McDonald’s, Sbarro and other companies, most of whom have expressed interest in having concession space. So far, 14 firms have submitted bids, ranging from Creative Croissants to Jerry’s Catering.

A list of preferred food vendors recommended by a county-appointed committee reviewing the bids is scheduled to be considered by the County Airport Commission by March 21.


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