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By Julie Gustafson

Contributing Journalist

Las Vegas, Nev. – It’s Sunday morning, about 7:45 a.m., and the line to check in for the ninth annual Airport Revenue News conference has begun to wind around the registration desk. With ARN staff members working quickly to check in each attendee, this reporter takes advantage of the captive audience to do a little “man-on-the-street,” or in this case, “woman-on-the-street,” interviews with a few people.

Why have people come to the conference, and what do they hope to accomplish while they’re here? What are new attendees hoping to get out of the conference, and is it different from those who have been attending this conference for years? With a record number of more than 800 attendees, one doesn’t have to go far to chat with people eager to get their name badge, make a beeline for the hot coffee and sit in on one of two educational sessions that begins at 8:30 a.m..

LeMonica Hakeem is chatting with co-workers when approached for an interview. The vice president of strategic initiatives for Atlanta-based Concessions International LLC is in line with Donata Russell Major, vice chairwoman, and Tanya Hairston-Whitner, general counsel. Hakeem says she likes the ARN conference for the continuing education she gets via the sessions; the opportunity to meet with potential customers is also what keeps Hakeem and her co-workers attending.

“ARN’s conference is the best for relationship building,” says Hakeem. “The best brands are here, and it gives us a chance to meet with the airports where we do business.”

Hakeem also notes her company is interested to learn about potential Airport Concessionaire Disadvantaged Business Enterprise opportunities while at the conference.

This year marks Neil Maxfield’s second year attending. Denver International’s (DEN) managing director for business development has been in his position for nine months and with the airport for two years. Over the next three years, the airport will change out 100 out of 147 concessions. Following the Premium Value Concessions Program, which is designed to raise the bar on the quality of concessions and increase concessions revenue, Maxfield looks to the conference as the ideal place to network with concessionaires, as well as hold “off-line” meetings with them.

“This is the first time in 17 years that we’ve been open for business,” says Maxfield. “It’s a great opportunity.”

By now, it’s 8:25 a.m. and the first sessions are about to begin. Todd Vicsik, special venues development manager for the west division at McDonald’s USA LLC, explains his objectives for the conference. This is his third year attending, and like most others, he finds the conference to be the ideal place to network with key stakeholders including existing clients and potential new ones.

“The Schmooze Time sessions are very productive for us,” he says.

Roderick McOwan, senior vice president of business development for Las Vegas-based Marshall Retain Group, is a veteran ARN conference attendee, having attended all nine of them. His main purpose in attending is to expand his company’s business into other airports. Although a staple at McCarran International (LAS) for years, the company is known more for its street location stores, with 70 in Las Vegas alone, which specialize in women’s fashion, jewelry, candy and traditional souvenirs.

Once the first sessions begin, most people grab a seat to listen to either the ABCs of Doing Business in Airports, an intro session for beginners, or Concessions 201, focusing on entertaining and interactive retail programs, U.K. trends soon to reach the U.S. and U.S. airports, and the reinvention of news and gift stores. Rita Bhasker, president of Guava & Java, based in Washington, D.C., sat in on the ABCs of Doing Business in Airports. An experienced concessionaire well versed in working in airports, Bhasker was instead in attendance at the session to show support for one of the speakers, Clarence LaJeune, president of MarketPlace Development at Philadelphia International (PHL); there, her company has two Guava & Java locations, as well as a Le Bus Cafe, a local bakery concept. Bhasker attends the conference to see people she only sees once a year, as well as to meet new people. She also goes to keep up to date and top of mind within the industry.

“I like to come to Vegas to look at the food trends here and see how they might translate to airports,” he says. “I look to see what I could possibly take back to my stores.”

Farm to table and local, local, local is always on the mind of Ype Von Hengst, co-founder and executive vice president of Culinary Operations for Silver Diner in Rockville, Md. The company has 13 street locations but is in just one airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI), and Von Hengst hopes to meet with other airport operators at the conference who can help get Silver Diner into surrounding airports. He agrees it can be difficult to eat healthy foods when traveling and credits his company’s formula of sourcing local, healthy and low-calorie foods for the success Silver Diner has seen over the six years it has been at BWI.

The morning’s interviews wraps up with Juanita Britton, managing partner and vice president of Paradies BZB DC LLC. Britton has attended every ARN conference and her goal at each is always the same: meet new people, expand her knowledge and learn new trends in airport retail. Her eye is on the trend toward more technology-related concessions and all things European that are headed to the United States. Her focus has been on the growth of airport retail, including the trend in creating revenue from previously unused airport nooks and crannies, and the need for more and varied food concessions.

“I love the [ARN] Fact Book,” Britton says. “It’s my go-to for trends around the country, and ARN is really the pillar of key information in the industry.”