Luxury boutiques at the Charles de Gaulle airport

PARIS — Seeking to better tap into the trail of fortune offered by tourist flows, Aeroports de Paris, the operator of Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports on the outskirts of the French capital, is upgrading its commercial retail offer.

“We have small, human-sized terminals with, in each case, ambitious projects in terms of architectural design that reflects Paris in both the offer and the experience,” explained Mathieu Daubert, customer division director of the company, on a recent visit to Charles de Gaulle, the largest airport in the Paris region. The executive pointed to a ceiling that presided over stands of makeup and perfumes stamped Chanel, L’Occitane and Clarins — it was decorated to emulate the ironwork of the Eiffel Tower, with rows of spotlights embedded into the curved grids.

The Paris-listed company is halfway through a four-year, 676-million euro investment program, that includes refurbishing sections of the Charles de Gaulle terminal and a newly constructed zone in the international terminal of Orly.

Like traditional shopping centers that are increasingly turning to events and an improved food offer to drum up business, the airport is also branching out, he explained.

“Half of the passengers spend money in restaurants or boutiques, but for those who don’t want to buy anything, clearly we have to be capable of also offering them a way to experience Paris, either through a cultural or sports event.”

The executive, who previously worked at two prominent department stores in the French capital, Le Bon Marché and Printemps, sees the project as a bid to position the airport as a “21st arrondissement” — or “district” of Paris.

It might be the final experience for visitors leaving the capital or, as is the case for around a third of the passengers who simply pass through the airport in transit, the closest they will get to the city.

In one section of the airport, there is a museum exhibit hall, open for passengers to stroll through freely.

“Seeing as we want to represent the cultural dimension of Paris, we can’t do a partnership with just one museum — to us it seemed important to choose a different partner each time,” he said. Exhibits change every six months and have included Rodin statues and even a painting by Picasso; a nude by Pierre Bonnard opens the current show.

In Terminal 2E section of the airport, a bronze sculpture of a striding figure by Nathalie Decoster sits in front of a collection of boutiques with high-end French labels: Cartier, Chanel, Hermès, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Rounding the corner are other brands including Gucci and Bulgari. Next on the list of labels in the airport: Celine and Rimowa, due to open in the coming year.

“We have a clientele that seeks out these types of products and wouldn’t understand if they weren’t available in a Parisian airport,” said Daubert, referring to the luxury brands.

Wine for sale in the airport is also French, with prices starting at less than 10 euros, but reaching as much as 30,000 euros. Perfume, as well, ranges from more accessible brands to more rare bottles from Guerlain.

“The idea is to provide a moment of emotion for each passenger, so one can leave with a souvenir in the form of a macaron from La Duree or a more exceptional product,” explained Daubert. Buy Paris duty-free shops are jointly run by the airport operator and another French company, Lagardère Travel Retail.

The Paris airports have increased commercial space by nearly 70 percent in the past 10 years. Sales per customer have nearly doubled between 2006 and 2017, from 9.8 euros to 18.20 euros. This is the highest level in the world after the Incheon Airport in South Korea, according to the Paris airport operator, which seeks to reach 23 euros per client by 2020.

Well-trained sales staff and good quality restaurants are another focus, according to Daubert. A barista at a Starbucks branch of the airport won the top prize in a competition in the Paris region last year, he said. Well-known chefs at the airport include Guy Martin who has a restaurant called “I Love Paris” in Hall L of Terminal 2E and Anne-Sophie Pic is next on the list to bring a food offer to the airport.