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VOL. 128 | NO. 235 | Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Delivering Memphis

Airport seasonal concerts add local flavor to terminal

By Andy Meek

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The school groups and local musicians who’ve serenaded visitors to Memphis International Airport in recent weeks are part of a broader plan to create a memorable travel experience at the airport.

Jason Freeman performs at Memphis International Airport as part of a program presented by the Memphis Music Foundation to bring local musicians to the terminal.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Rather, a MEMorable travel experience, to use the airport leadership’s nomenclature, with the emphasis on the first three letters suggesting a need to give travelers more of a taste of Memphis that goes beyond obvious choices like barbecue and Elvis.

Scott Brockman, chief operating officer for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority who takes over as CEO Jan. 2, was approached about the idea through an acquaintance, and he says he warmed to it immediately. One reason is it brings music back to the airport, where several restaurants once had areas for live music.

Musicians will be playing at the airport through Christmas through a partnership between the Airport Authority and the Memphis Music Foundation, which is being paid by the airport for its help with the program. A few years of research and planning went into the effort, and the music foundation says it looked to other “music cities” like Austin, Texas, and Nashville in an attempt to identify best practices for the effort.

Music Foundation President Dean Deyo said his organization also has worked with the airport to provide recorded Memphis music 24 hours a day in the airport’s new parking facility. And the foundation is hoping to continue its Memphis Music in the airport program during major holidays throughout 2014, Deyo added.

“This is all part of what I will call the reinvention of Memphis International Airport,” Brockman said. “It’s a change of the look, feel and flavor. And it does include, over time, increasing our affordable air service. The goal is to create a positively memorable travel experience and a better customer service model than we have today.

“What we’re trying to do is help redevelop things with this program. The idea is to engage all our tenants and business partners, so that anyone coming to the airport – whether it’s a parking ticket operator or a vendor at Starbucks – everybody is engaged in the delivery of that experience.”

Brockman first heard about the idea from a fellow participant in the 2013 Leadership Memphis executive class, someone who is also on the Memphis Music Foundation board. She suggested bringing Deyo by the airport to talk about showcasing local music talent.

“I thought it was a really good idea, as we go about this process of reinventing ourselves as an O&D (origin and destination) airport,” Brockman said. “We decided to try it out over Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

The move is one of several additions visible at the airport of late that are collectively part of the reinvention Brockman envisions. They also include customer-friendly amenities like the introduction of free Wi-Fi service throughout Terminals A, B and C.

At the same time, the airport continues to feel the effect of flight cuts. The airport’s most recent figures showed total enplanements down by about a third in October because of Delta Air Lines’ reductions earlier this year, while cargo remains the airport’s strong sector.

Compared to October 2012, total enplanements dropped 29 percent, falling to 182,872 enplanements this year from 257,824 last October.

Memphis International is the world’s second-busiest cargo airport behind Hong Kong and again saw strong activity in October from FedEx and UPS. Total cargo handled for October increased 7.5 percent year-over-year, with roughly 820 million pounds handled compared to 762 million pounds handled in October 2012.

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