After four years and millions of euros, the project to redesign Nice Côte d’Azur Airport came to a conclusion earlier this year, and the chief commercial officer at Aéroports de la Côte d’Azur, Filip Soete, is already missing the process of realising an ambitious vision that has made the airport stand out. “You always get a little bit of the baby blues when a project like this comes to an end,” he remarks.

He can, however, look back with pride at a successful effort by him and his team to create something unique. The first part focused on Terminal 1, where a refurbishment programme began in 2015, before the more substantial refit of Terminal 2 began in 2017.

The redevelopment of Terminal 2 included the addition of 3,000m² to the Schengen boarding area, which included a new mezzanine area for food and beverage outlets, and a further 1,000m² added to the remaining section of the terminal. Overall, the airport now has 26 food and beverage areas, 33 retail units and six duty-free stores, as well as a growing number of high-quality restaurants and pop-ups. These are all set in light and airy spaces that give a real sense of space, even as passenger numbers continue to grow year on year.

The refit of Terminal 2 was undertaken in preparation for a forecast increase in future traffic, and to improve the quality of service for passengers and airlines alike. Sustainability has also been a key driver of the redesign, including the use of renewable energy to cool public spaces by using natural ventilation and free cooling at night; the incorporation of bio-based materials, such as wood floors from sustainably managed forests and materials with low environmental impact; and passive protection systems for the skin of the building to prevent solar heating.

However, the project was, above all, intended to increase revenues by rooting the airport in the traditions and aesthetics of the region, thereby providing a unique experience for passengers.

“When I took this job four years ago, my boss wanted me to increase revenues and customer satisfaction, as well as improve the operational aspects of the airport,” remarks Soete. “So, we redesigned the passenger pathway. While some airports have tried to be the most technologically advanced, for example, we wanted to propose the most surprising commercial experience of any airport in Europe.

“The first part of this was to create a sense of space. We are in one of the nicest places in the world; from the terminals, you can see the mountains and the sea,” he adds. “So you have a real feel of the Mediterranean. The second objective was to be different to other airports, many of which have worked on their commercial areas and incorporated more things for passengers to do in the airport, but many of them end up looking the same. That’s why we have chosen so many local restaurants and brands for our airport.”

A key step was to reorganise the security areas in both terminals to optimise the passenger pathway and make sure travellers’ memories of the airport were of the atmosphere, food and retail opportunities, rather than the X-ray machine that scanned their hand luggage.

“We made the security areas big so the process is quick. It should take no more than ten minutes to go through,” Soete explains. “Security is now the real border, so we wanted to make sure that it flows well and operates as efficiently as possible. We need to make that part of the passenger pathway as pleasant as possible. If you have no baggage, then it is extremely efficient and easy.

“Then there is the duty-free area, which generates extra revenue, and then you have the luxury shops. They come first because people may take more time to buy the kind of goods that you find in those shops. Then there is the fashion area, as well as many other kinds of shops, including gastronomy. We wanted to cater for either end of the market, so there is something for everyone,” he says.

A flavour of the Mediterranean

Nice Airport has succeeded in creating what it describes as the “after-beach” atmosphere in both terminals. This concept was driven by a desire to ensure that the atmosphere of the Riviera would linger in the minds of passengers as they enjoyed the large open spaces that are designed to be reminiscent of the sundrenched terraces many of them will have enjoyed during their stay. This comes through not only in the architecture and the furnishings, but also in the food and retail outlets within the commercial areas.

Local food and wine is on sale, enabling passengers to take a little taste of the region home with them, such as a bottle of pale, crisp rosé, for which the Côte d’Azur is well known. Alongside outlets for famous brands like Hermès, for instance, and familiar restaurant chains such as Jamie’s Italian, there is also Saveurs de Provence, which specialises in regional and fine foods.

Passengers wishing to have a meal with a regional flavour before their flight can also try many of the restaurants in the commercial area, including the Nice institution Chez Pipo, in Terminal 1, which serves the locals’ favourite socca – a savoury cake made with chickpea flour that is browned in the oven.

The newest restaurant is Estivale, which is something of a coup for the travel hub. It is the first airport restaurant created by Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco, whose two-Michelinstar Menton-based establishment Mirazur is regarded as one of the world’s top 50 restaurants. Located in Terminal 2, Estivale provides a relaxed atmosphere where one can enjoy fine dining with a breathtaking view of the runways and the sea. Its menu is inspired by local cuisine, such as Mediterranean fish carpaccio and roasted guinea fowl.

“This is his first restaurant in an airport and it has a view of the sea,” Soete enthuses. “In the 1980s and ‘90s, restaurants all but disappeared from airports, as there was a move towards low-cost food outlets. Now, with the right offering, people who travel frequently will come to the airport earlier to have a nice meal before their flight. We now have more than 20 food and beverage outlets in the airport, and I am convinced that the increase in quality and quantity works really well.”

Estivale is the perfect complement to Michelin-star chef Thierry Marx’s La Plage, which is in Terminal 1. As the name suggests, its decor is reminiscent of a beach bar. Both restaurants fit perfectly with the design of the entire space.

“It is important to have large, airy rooms, especially for dining, with natural light and a view. Everything has to be part of the complete passenger parcel; all of the different parts must work together to create a pleasant atmosphere. We also have to give people choice,” Soete says.

Sitting pretty

What ties the spaces in both terminals together is a unique range of seating designed by Green Furniture Concept. Weaving its way around the restaurants and retail areas, it adds to the sense of place with its flexibility, stylish design and practicality. It is a key part of the airport’s interior, supporting the flow of passengers through the terminal and, aesthetically, adding to the beachlike atmosphere.

The modular design of the Nova C seating gave Soete a great deal of flexibility in its placement, ensuring that the terminals have seating that perfectly matched the new layout of the commercial areas. The curved design is intended to echo ocean waves, and the fact that it uses – where possible – locally sourced materials means that it fits well with the airport’s goals for sustainability.

“The concept for the furniture came about by coincidence,” explains Soete. “I saw it at a terminal and I liked the natural part of the construction. I found out that it was designed for railway stations, but I said that I must have it in the airport. It has a nice form and it is built from natural wood. We didn’t have the budget for a consultant to help with the final design, but we put our heads together and came up with the idea of adding umbrellas, which really gave it the feel of the beach.

“In Terminal 2, we wanted to hide the fire hoses, so by putting the furniture around those areas we could improve the visual aspect. Overall, the furniture fits well with the concept of the airport. It is strong and, while people can sit comfortably on it, there are no individual spaces, which means you can fit more people on it, if necessary.”

One aspect of the furniture that Soete believes is crucial is that it is comfortable enough – but not too comfortable.

“You cannot sleep on it,” he points out. “Previously, we had to remove some of the furniture that we were using in the airport because it was far too easy to sleep on. Most of the traffic through this airport is short haul anyway, but with high-end shops in the commercial area we did not want people to be seen taking off their shoes and lying on the benches to sleep.”

For now, Soete can look forward to the further expansion of capacity at the airport. This will include the construction of a new pier, due to be completed by mid-2021, which will increase the number of boarding gates. It will be located in front of six A320-size aircraft stands that will be constructed later this year and in early 2019, and will be big enough to host two large aircraft such as the Airbus A380. The design of the pier will make boarding and disembarking possible directly on foot from the pier. A second phase that starts in 2022 will see a new terminal building added as a low-cost extension, though it will not include a new commercial area.

“We just finished the refurbishment a few months ago, and we are already seeing revenues increase and passenger satisfaction improve,” notes Soete. “Everyone is happy, including the concessionaires, the airlines and the passengers. Apart from a few minor changes, the project is almost complete now, and there will not be another refit for another ten years or more. We will expand the airport with a new jetty, but that will not affect the commercial area.

“We have created something that allows people to see the region – even the airport and retail outlets feature some small brands from the local region,” Soete concludes. “We want people to take part of their holiday away with them and show it to others.”