Forgot Mickey … get him at the airport!!!!!!

Filed under: Theme Parks,Vacation Tips |

Just before catching her flight home to New York on a recent afternoon, Myrna Francis managed to squeeze in a little last-minute Christmas shopping for her grandkids.

Where? In stores run by Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando at Orlando International Airport, where she snagged a Cars video game and Spider-Man sandals.

“It’s convenient,” Francis said of the stores, after emerging from one with a Mickey Mouse plastic bag. “I didn’t have to carry it [the souvenirs] all the way to the airport.”

She isn’t the only one who likes the stores. A review of airport-revenue records shows that the terminal shops run by Disney, Universal, SeaWorld Orlando owner Busch Entertainment Corp. and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex are cash cows for the theme parks and OIA.

The eight shops operated by the parks rang up nearly $20 million in sales during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 — collecting more than $1 out of every $4 consumers spent at airport stores. They have churned out more than $80 million in sales during the past five years.

Disney dwarfs the competition. Its stores — the flagship Disney’s EarPort in the terminal’s east hall and the Magic of Disney in the west hall — outsell all of the other theme-park stores combined. Its stores ring up as much as $1.2 million in receipts in a single month.

During the past five years, Disney has sold nearly $58 million worth of merchandise at the airport. Only HMSHost Corp., which operates 22 restaurants, and Alpha Airports Group, which runs a pair of duty-free shops selling liquor, cigarettes, perfume and other high-end items, do better than Disney among airport concessionaires.

The theme parks aren’t the only ones who benefit. Their stores paid a combined $4.5 million to the airport last year in the form of concession fees and rent. They have plowed close to $20 million into airport’s coffers during five years.

“The theme retail stores really, I think, do well in representing why people travel to Orlando,” said Renee Spann, the airport’s director of concessions. “I think it’s a very pleasant surprise for [passengers] when they come to the airport.”

For the theme parks, the airport stores serve almost as satellite attractions.

Disney’s EarPort, which at 4,700 square feet is the largest park shop in the terminal, features a wall-length mural of Mickey Mouse and iconic images of its four parks. Two spots are set aside so visitors can take photos of themselves next to life-sized sculptures of Snow White and Goofy.

The walls of one SeaWorld store were built to look as if they are made of coral, and the ceiling is wavy and covered with blue glass ornaments. Travelers passing a Universal store see holographic images of the Incredible Hulk, Shrek and SpongeBob SquarePants that shift with every step.

One of the Kennedy Space Center stores displays a $500,000, 188-pound spacesuit that astronaut Gene Cernan wore while training for the Apollo 17 mission to the moon.

The theme-park feel goes beyond the decorations. Every hour in Disney’s stores employees announce a “magical moment” and randomly select customers, usually children, to play a Disney trivia game, solve a puzzle or race toy cars across the shop floor. Sometimes they play a game called “Finding Nemo,” where an employee hides a toy based on the Pixar character and customers search for it.

“It’s so unique out there for us, because we’re going to be the first Disney experience some of those guests have when they get off at the airport — and we’re going to be the last experience some of our guests have,” said Mark Dukes, director of merchandise at Downtown Disney. “It really is an extension of Walt Disney World.”

Records show that sales in OIA’s theme-park stores ebb and flow with overall airport traffic. Spring and summer are typically the busiest months, as families with children take advantage of spring break, the Easter holiday and summer vacation to travel.

This past year, for instance, April was the best cumulative month for the stores. Disney alone rang up more than $1.2 million in sales. Universal did $324,000, followed by SeaWorld at $218,000 and Kennedy Space Center at $158,000.

Those sales meant about $420,000 in payments to OIA.

Toys, shirts, tickets sell well

Park officials say top sellers at the airport include plush toys, T-shirts and figurines. The stores also sell tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of park tickets each year.

Games, both low-tech and electronic, are particularly popular among parents who want something to entertain their children with during the long flight home. But snow-globe sales are nonexistent, their having been pulled from the shelves after the federal ban on carry-on liquids.

“I think, from our standpoint, we’re sensitive to the fact that the traveler is flying. They’ve pretty much got to pack it,” said John Lowe, vice president of merchandise for SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and the soon-to-open Aquatica. “We’re sensitive to the fact that you can’t take a 150-pound statue on a plane.”

Beyond direct sales, the airport stores promote the attractions, particularly in the case of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which lacks the marketing muscle of the bigger theme parks.

“They’re really an important outreach tool for us,” KSC Visitor Complex spokeswoman Jillian McRae said.

Stores pay OIA varying rates

Each theme park must pay the airport a minimum amount of money for its stores every month, plus a percentage of total sales above that. But the terms, which the airport negotiated individually with each company, differ somewhat for each.

During the most recent fiscal year, for example, Universal had to pay a minimum of about $39,000 each month for its two stores, or 20 percent of sales in one store and 19 percent in the other — whichever was greater. SeaWorld’s stores, by contrast, had to pay a combined monthly minimum of about $46,000, or 20 percent of sales up to $1.5 million and 22 percent of sales beyond that.

As a result, records show that Universal paid about 21 percent of its $2.7 million in fiscal-year merchandise sales to the airport, while SeaWorld paid about 28 percent of its $2 million in sales. Disney paid the airport about 24 percent of its $13 million in sales.

Universal would not discuss its stores in any detail. But in a prepared statement, Ric Florell, the senior vice president and general manager for resort revenue operations, said: “We’re pleased with our airport stores for two reasons: They offer great previews of the Universal Orlando Resort experience for people arriving in Orlando, and they perform well as retail locations.”

OIA officials are pleased, too — so much so that they are now planning to add two theme-park stores on the far side of the main terminal’s security checkpoints, in Airside 4, where most of the airport’s international flights arrive and depart.

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