Friends embrace. Families explore an art exhibition. Shoppers admire handcrafted wares and hungry travelers survey a myriad of local eateries before settling on a lunch destination.
This is the scene at the newly renovated Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. It’s where about 85 percent of the airport travelers, more than 100,000 people a day, have their first encounter with Arizona — an encounter that will help shape their impression of the state and the Phoenix metro area.
“For many travelers, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the first experience they have of the Phoenix area, so our goal is to provide them with a world-class experience,” explains Heather Lissner, acting public information manager for the City of Phoenix Aviation Department.
Impact on tourism
The $590 million facelift is more than strategically placed art displays, designer walkways and vibrant southwest décor. Seamless transportation, sustainable design and streamlined customer service enhance the airport’s reputation and reflect upon the local tourism industry.
“The recent additions to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, from the Sky Train to public art to the abundance of local restaurant options, have extended the unique qualities of the metro Phoenix area and created an improved visitor experience,” says Toni Smith, director of communications for the Tempe Tourism Office. “We’re lucky to have an airport that travelers want to see, which helps set us apart as a destination and encourages repeat visits.”
If travelers’ destinations are along the Valley Metro light rail line, the PHX Sky Train provides a seamless transition between the terminals and the 44th Street and Washington Street station. From there the light rail transports travelers east through Tempe and Mesa, or west into Phoenix.
Douglas MacKenzie, director of media relations for Visit Phoenix, appreciates the 15-minute trip from the airport to the downtown area. “Phoenix is primarily a fly-in market for both our leisure and meetings visitors so the airport is very important to our convention and leisure business.” Whether travelers are coming for a convention or mega event like the Superbowl, the transition from airport, to PHX Sky Train, to Metro light rail adds great value.
“It’s a wonderful plus for attendees. It’s the ease of convenience for our meeting delegates to get into downtown,” MacKenzie says. “It’s a perfect tourism factor in more people choosing Phoenix as a destination.”
Authentic Arizona dining
MacKenzie says a mix of eateries that includes delicious local choices can also encourage return visitors.
Two companies, HMSHost Corporation and SSP America, have orchestrated a blend of local, regional and national eateries with more than 40 establishments providing dining options from the fast food national brands to locally owned wine bars. Part of the strategy to provide authentic Arizona dining was to offer the best restaurants in the area and keep the street prices.
Among the eateries chosen to enhance Phoenix’s reputation as a foodie destination are Barrio Café, Cowboy Ciao, Sauce Pizza & Wine, Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles and Joe’s Real BBQ.
“What has truly happened is that the culinary offerings at Sky Harbor for the first time ever are probably some of the best in the nation,” says Tad Peelen, operating partner at Joe’s Real BBQ in Gilbert. “I think people who travel a good deal recognize the fact that it is not the preponderance of national chains.
“We are happy to have a Gilbert presence at the airport for the first time,” Peelen says. “We think the brand extension is fantastic. We like the fact that when people get off the airplane they see a logo of a place east of the airport and in many cases more of those people are staying east of the airport.
“They say they are America’s friendliest airport and I think this is an extension of that. It was a very passenger friendly thing to do to give so many independent really tasty options at the airport.”
MacKenzie agrees. “It’s a wonderful culinary entrance into the southwest. If people don’t have a chance to visit all of our local restaurants, it gives them a taste of what they’ve missed,” he says.
Passengers with connecting flights also benefit from the new design and abundant shopping and dining.
Additional amenities include water bottle filling stations, strategically placed kiosks and a pet park. Airport navigators wearing purple jackets and “Ask Me” buttons answer questions and direct travelers needing assistance.
There is also an indoor walking trail with ample views of the area. “It’s a little over a mile long,” Lissner says. “You can see Camelback Mountain, the Buttes at Papago Peak, the Sky Train bridge and South Mountain. At Terminal 3, the Phoenix Sky Train station has some very gorgeous views of downtown Phoenix as well as the airfield.”
The beauty of the project is supported by an environmentally conscious design. The first phase of the electric-powered PHX Sky Train construction received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, while the Terminal 3 segment earned a LEED Silver designation.
The PHX Sky Train is part of the overall sustainability management plan that consists of investing in renewable energy, improving air quality, minimizing greenhouse gases, reducing waste and conserving water.
“We do strive for sustainability,” Lissner says, adding that the plan aligns with the City of Phoenix in terms of recycling and sustainability goals. “ We’re doing our part to help the environment.”
When renovations are complete, Terminal 3 will have a consolidated security checkpoint, additional ticket counters, new baggage carousels and expanded curb area. More shops and restaurants are included in the plan.
“I think Terminal 3 is going to be stunning,” says MacKenzie, who has seen the plan. “It’s going to be more open, with more windows and more restaurants. It will certainly enhance the service and experience of every traveler.”
Eventually, Terminal 2 will be closed and those airlines will move to Terminal 3, Lissner says. The project is scheduled to be complete by 2020. The approximately $590 million price tag is being paid by airport revenues generated through parking, tenant and concession fees. Local tax dollars are not used to support the airport, which has an annual economic impact reported to be nearly $29 billion.
Lissner says the changes are essential to quality travel.
“We pride ourselves on being America’s friendliest airport,” Lissner says. “We’re really looking to provide travelers with a world-class experience that is more efficient, more pleasant and something they can really enjoy so we can really welcome them to the state of Arizona.”