Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), the trade association representing commercial service airports in the United States and Canada, today announced the winners of the 2021 ACI-NA Airport Concessions Awards, which celebrate the resilience of airports, concessionaires, and business partners.

“This year’s recipients are just some of the many examples of how the airport and concessions industry continues to work in partnership through challenging times,” said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke. “Since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, airports and their stakeholders have taken proactive steps to help ensure the health and safety of passengers and airport workers. We look forward to continuing to work with our members on these important issues and celebrating more examples in 2022.”

The 2021 ACI-NA Airport Concessions Awards are comprised of seven award categories — encompassing three airport awards, three concessionaire/service provider awards, and one joint award.

2021 Airport Concessions Awards Winners



Small Airport Adaptability Award

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary food and beverage provider for Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) ended operations. To ensure our customers continued to have access to safe, first-class dining options during and after the pandemic, GSP assumed management of all the previous operator’s assets. Customer service is among our highest priorities at GSP, and our goal was to continue to offer award-winning concessions and to have the ability to directly influence how the service is delivered to our customers.

Our solution was to adopt a management and operating services agreement, rather than a traditional concessions agreement, with a new operator. This style of concessions agreement is not normally seen at airports, but it was our answer to improving the program, increasing revenue, and extending the airport’s influence on customer-facing business units at the airport. As a result, GSP has become more directly involved with the day-to-day operations of the food and beverage program, ensuring quality, revenue management, and long-term success. Through a formal RFP process, GSP selected Metz Culinary Management as the new management and operating services agreement operator of five food and beverage outlets at GSP.


Medium Airport Adaptability Award

At the beginning of 2020, construction had just begun in many concessions and retail spaces at the Indianapolis International Airport (IND). 39 food, beverage, and retail spaces were scheduled for renovation under the Indianapolis Airport Authority’s (IAA) Concessions Refresh Program. By March, the global pandemic began impacting the aviation industry across the country, pausing build-outs and causing delays to the phased construction plan for the entire Concessions Refresh Program.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the IAA has prioritized the health and safety of the public and employees, including developing the ‘IND Cares’ campaign to promote social distancing and mask-wearing in the terminal. The IAA worked quickly with concessions partners to install signage and plexiglass barriers in front of open concessions locations and erect barricade construction walls around closed locations. Although these measures were meant to be temporary, many of those barricade walls have remained through the entire pandemic.

In February of 2021, Indianapolis was named the first-ever host city of the entire NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. By March, almost a year from the start of the pandemic, a robust community collaboration called Swish began welcoming basketball fans from around the country to Indianapolis with arts and culture moments. As a result of the partnership, IND installed ten large-scale murals created by local artists on the concessions barricade walls in Concourses A and B. These barricade walls provided a creative opportunity that would continue to positively impact the passenger experience while also creating a sense of place.


Large Airport Adaptability Award

In 2020, the aviation industry faced historic losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis hit airports particularly hard, especially concessionaires. With more than 300 food and beverage locations inside North America’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) sought to encourage travelers to return to the skies with three campaigns: “ATL Strong: Safe, Clean and Ready,” “Yes, We are Open,” and the inaugural ATL Skypointe Restaurant Week.

ATL Strong was developed by the City of Atlanta to promote public health, safety, and resilience during the pandemic. Hartsfield-Jackson promoted this campaign on its website ( in Airport signage, a press conference, virtual community forums, and social media platforms, outlining measures that stakeholders, including concessionaires, implemented to keep travelers and employees safe.

ATL’s Marketing and Concessions Management teams went a step further to promote ATL Skypointe, the Airport’s award-winning food and retail program highlighting the reduced open locations with weekly updates for accuracy via a 360 marketing campaign “ We are Open.”

In addition, during the week of Thanksgiving—one of the busiest travel periods of the year—Hartsfield-Jackson activated ATL Skypointe Restaurant Week to encourage passengers to arrive early and explore dining options.

From November 23-30, multi-themed days and social media engagement appealed to multiple segments of travelers. Marketing components included collaborations with social media influencers and restaurant chefs promoted through e-blasts, ATL’s social media platforms, and website, in addition to AJC Social and the Airport CNN Channel.


Retail Operator Adaptability Award

The COVID-19 pandemic brought more challenges and change than anyone could have imagined. Expectations around travel changed tremendously in 2020, with a heightened need for cleanliness and safety, and travelers increasingly seeking contactless, “no-touch” shopping experiences. For Hudson, that meant a disruption to business in a way that hadn’t been seen in its history, with the company making the commitment to remain operational to serve the essential workers passing through airports and commuter hubs each and every day.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, Hudson immediately took a number of decisive actions to ensure the health and safety of its team members, travelers, and airport and commuter hub personnel. The company assembled an internal Emergency Response Team (ERT) that met daily to assess COVID-19 risks to the business and developed comprehensive Health & Safety Playbooks and videos for team members, business partners, and landlords.

With health and safety at the forefront, Hudson continued to invest in its business and digital roadmap, offering new contactless payment options, expediting the roll-out of self-checkout, and launching Automated Retail, providing a contactless, 24/7 destination for PPE and specialty retail. We also opened Hudson Nonstop stores using Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, where travelers enter the store with a credit card, pick up their products, and quickly exit – avoiding checkout lines.

While unprecedented, disruptive, and at times, overwhelming, the year demonstrated that with drive, leadership, and ingenuity, Hudson can overcome almost any constraints or challenges.


Food and Beverage Operator Adaptability Award

The COVID-19 crisis changed our industry, our priorities, and our outlook for the future. In response, we set a course for a new, collaborative and pragmatic approach to operating and serving guests, with a focus on making everyone safe, comfortable, and calm. We had a keen awareness that the COVID-19 pandemic had devastated the travel and restaurant industries and, unfortunately, HMSHost sits at the crossroads of both. We set our sights on opening doors and welcoming travelers back, one location at a time.

In May 2020, we published the 21-page HMSHost Growth Plan for our airport partners – a thoughtful, data-driven, consumer-centric approach to opening and operating our stores so we could ‘grow back’ in this new environment and make people feel good about working and dining with us. This plan was developed in partnership with a cross-functional team across the organization and took four weeks to create.

HMSHost President & CEO Steve Johnson personally sent each airport executive director an email correspondence and included the Growth Plan as an attachment. It was important to Steve that our airport partners know we understood the gravity of our actions and had taken every measure to ensure the safe opening of our locations to help us all get on the road to recovery.


Service Provider Adaptability Award

Contracted as the concessions management representative/partner at Chicago’s Department of Aviation (CDA) at O’Hare International Airport, Unison Consulting (dba: Unison Retail Management) has been a strategic leader in the airport’s concessions operations, planning, customer service, and marketing programs. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a dramatic change for the airport’s concessionaires who were devastated by its effects.

Unison Consulting’s immediate response was to ascertain the gravity of the concessionaire’s situation; gain the necessary knowledge to communicate effectively between CDA and the concessionaires; and provide guidance concessionaires needed to navigate through this unprecedented event.

Unison jumped into action gathering all information available from national and local sources, including CDA, Chicago Health Dept. and other agencies and forums, i.e.: OSHA, SBA, Illinois Restaurant Assoc., industry leaders ACI and AMAC. Unison also sought information from federal authorities including White House phone conferences, in support of the Coronavirus Task Force for African American stakeholders. Absorbing this information and combining it with decades of airport concessions management experience, Unison’s team at O’Hare implemented airport-wide safety measures in each concession location, immediately composed action plans in each Unison function from operations to marketing, to the financial administration to general management.

From the development of an extensive new Concessions Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manual encompassing COVID guidelines to a new checklist for open and closing, to new Zoom-based merchant meetings, and restructured marketing tactics and restricted budgets, participation in CDA Reconstitution task forces, and more, the Unison team re-set strategies to meet the new demands in a pandemic world.


Airport Best Employee Recognition Program Award

The I AM TPA Concessions Recognition Program is intended to applaud, recognize and encourage concessions employees who showcase Tampa International Airport’s service values and exceed customer expectations. Our employees are the reason we’re regarded as one of the friendliest airports in the world, and we want them to know we appreciate them. Concessionaire General Managers and Concessions Department leadership have the ability to nominate front-line and back-of-house employees based on customer feedback and direct observations through an online nomination platform. On average, TPA recognizes 28 team members each month, representing about 2% of the concessions staff. Our rewards structure is as follows:

  • Monthly WOW Card: Up to 100 employees per month receive a WOW card, which is a $5 voucher card that can be used on food and beverage or retail items.
  • Monthly Gift Cards: Up to 40 employees get a professional certificate, lapel pin, and a $50 VISA card for receiving an online nomination. This includes customer feedback, manager feedback, and airport management feedback.
  • Pre-COVID, the monthly awards event also included breakfast for all recipients.
  • Annual Awards: Up to 25 employees are recognized annually based on multiple monthly recognitions. They receive a professional certificate, lapel pin, imprinted weekender travel bag, and $100 VISA card.

SSP America

Concessionaire Best Employee Recognition Program Award

SSP America had forged an unprecedented path by focusing almost all of its restaurant development efforts on bringing local restaurants to the airports we serve—to a much greater extent of any company in our competitive set. Over 70% of SSP America restaurants are local brands. This approach resonates strongly with airports, and in fact, prior to COVID-19, SSP America was experiencing major growth adding 1,000+ team members annually to its workforce.

As a result, it became essential for SSP America to recruit, train, and retain team members who shared a common language about our work, felt inspired to come to work every day, wanted to remain with our team for the long-term, would refer others to SSP America and ultimately deliver service levels consistent with those of our brand partners and company.

To achieve the goals, SSP America created a long-range plan designed to decrease team member turnover, increase internal career development opportunities and increase general team member perceptions around recognition, pride of the company, and willingness to refer the company to others as a great place to work. The recognition program was central to the larger multi-year and multi-faceted initiative.


Partnering with Airports and Concessionaires Award

With the catastrophic impact COVID had on 2020 enplanements, airport concessionaires across the industry were unable to fund planned or upcoming capital investments. As the Salt Lake City International Airport was planning to open Phase 1 of its new airport, these events threatened the progress and timeline of that project. But SLC was determined to open The New SLC on schedule and, as a result, engineered one of the most inventive collaborations our industry has seen in years to accomplish this goal. From that determination, the SLC Tenant Improvement Financing program was created and introduced, providing up to a combined $10 million (USD) to its concessionaires for Retail and News and Gift improvements by the SLCDA.

Simply put, the ultimate goal was to open the new airport on time despite the economic environment created by the pandemic. SLC had originally planned to keep large sections of their old airport operational, while subsequent phases of the new airport were being finished. Showing both ingenuity and agility, SLC instead planned to adjust and shut down large sections of the old airport, thereby funneling all their traffic through the new facility and significantly reducing their operating costs.

SLC demonstrated extremely creative problem solving to withstand a challenging environment. It’s legal, finance, and leadership teams collaborated to develop this Tenant Improvement Financing program, aiding concessionaires to finance tenant improvements. The funds provided would be allocated by program square footage. Furthermore, with the potential that not all concessionaire costs would be covered, and further declining enplanements as opening day approached, SLC indicated it would work with each concessionaire on identifying select stores to open rather than the entire program initially, without penalty.

Demonstrating further collaboration, SLC drafted reimbursement agreements for execution by both parties. The Airport provided clear yet fair requirements, including a successful opening on September 15, 2020, for the Parking Garage, Terminal, and Concourse A-west outlets; and October 27, 2020, for stores on Concourse B-west. Funds were reimbursable to SLCDA over a term of 5 years, with interest rates linked to the Revenue Bond Buyer Index.



Heroes Award – Food & Beverage Operator Award

Carolyn (Suzie) Grider, affectionally called, SuzieQ by the entire DFW airport, for ACI-NA’s aptly named Heroes Award. I want to commend ACI-NA for creating this award in light of Suzie’s contribution to the DFW community which have been particularly heroic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With SSP America since 2008 Suzie has worked at DFW for a total of almost 30 years and works almost every day—7 days a week. Suzie is a host and is responsible for greeting each passenger that visits our stores. She has worked at a variety of restaurants over the years including Tigin’s, Pizza Vino and Flying Saucer and since the pandemic has worked as a host, busser, food runner, and sandwich-maker extraordinaire. By way of background Suzie hails from the great state of Texas. She is a family woman and treats her SSP America family like they are her own.



Heroes Award – Retail Operator Award

Crystal Channel, Paradies Lagardère’s retail Zone Manager at Portland International Airport (PDX).

Just before the Thanksgiving holiday last year, Crystal was working in a pre-security store, The Oregon Market, when she noticed a passenger standing just outside the store alone and crying. Concerned, Crystal approached her to see if she could assist. The woman explained that her daughter had just dropped her off to catch a flight and had realized she left her handbag in her daughter’s car. Without her cell phone, wallet, plane ticket – everything – her panic was visible. Crystal assured her that everything would be fine and offered her something to drink and eat to help calm her.

Crystal offered to call the passenger’s daughter, but the woman didn’t know her daughter’s new number by heart. Ever resourceful, Crystal asked her for her daughter’s name to look her up on Facebook, but she couldn’t find her. Crystal then remembered the passenger mentioned having a son as well and asked for his name. This time they were successful, and through the son, they were able to get in touch with the daughter. Crystal continued to reassure the passenger she would make her flight, but also offered to personally drive her home in the event the customer was unable to reconnect with her family. Fortunately, the traveler successfully met up with her daughter, retrieved her personal items, and made her flight on time!

Crystal lives and breathes customer service excellence, which goes well beyond the boundaries of our airport stores and restaurants and strives to positively impact the lives of passengers every day.



Heroes Award – Medium Airport 

Nick’s consistent and voracious drive to push completion of construction of the full retail concessions program, redevelopment of portions of food and beverage concessions, and the relocation and construction of a new USO Lounge, airport museum, and airport conference center despite the unprecedented impacts to aviation travel caused by COVID-19, epitomize the criteria established for this award. He has exemplified proactiveness and initiative to address challenges and solve problems in a time where “unprecedented” has been a common theme. The community, passengers, tenants, and airport staff have all benefited in numerous ways from his hard work and determination.

Nick has implemented creative ideas for providing enhanced safety measures for the public and airport employees. He also provided objective plans for operations of stores and restaurants that minimized disruption of service as much as possible.

Nick always takes on tasks with positivity and has a “passenger first” mentality. In addition, he is always looking for ways to help everyone on our Airport team, collaborates well with all stakeholders and tenants. What the pandemic did do was present him with an opportunity to grow and strengthen his knowledge and skills during adverse circumstances. His response was taking advantage of that opportunity with focus, determination, and new levels of creativity that produced successful results for MKE



Heroes Award – Large Airport 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kate was an ambassador, partner and advocate for the Airport and its Concessions partners. Since the very beginning of the pandemic, Kate has been intentional about making sure every frontline employee sees her gratitude and her smile. She made herself accessible to the General Managers and has rallied behind them with rewards, recognition and a listening ear to keep them going when the Airport was empty and employees were scarce.

Kate has shepherded one of the strongest Concession re-opening plans in the country. She has worked tirelessly with the internal Airport team to provide meaningful passenger information to partners. Her efforts in developing new methods for sharing information has allowed Concessionaires to open profitably without cannibalizing each other’s business.

Kate saw an opportunity to reduce expenses in the operation of the Concessions Receiving and Distribution Center. While there was no contract language to reduce costs due to passenger or product volume dropping, she was able to save more than 20 percent on these expenses during the pandemic.

She worked hand-in-hand with TPA’s research department to survey travelers, collecting data on when and how often they expect to travel in the future, what services they are looking for and how they feel about the Airport’s proactive measures during the pandemic. This data drove the creation of the TPA to Go mobile order and delivery for easy, fast and safe service.

Kate clearly understood the emotional intelligence of those around her and comforted everyone as she would a family member. Her laughter, kindness and thoughtful tokens to others showed her strength and heroic abilities. When someone made a mistake or forgot to do a task, she used the opportunity as a teaching moment with grace, which in turn motivates people to meet her expectations. Kate celebrates big and small weekly wins to help the team move confidently forward.