Airport concessions companies suck. Most of the restaurants you think you’re eating at aren’t actually run by the people you think they are. The brands are licensed by airport concessions companies like OTG, Delaware North, and HMSHost. When a brand wants to do something that’s actually good they even advise against it.
Yet St. Louis is about to demand another decade of mediocrity, without even trying to be better. They plan to extend the airport concessions contract for HMSHost through January 2031 without even looking at alternatives, and their excuse is Covid-19. That’s just sad.
“Across the industry, the standard has been that you look at giving concessionaires an extension coming out of COVID,” said airport director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge. “We did that with rental cars, we’ve done that with some of the other concessions that have come up.”
HMSHost has been entrenched in St. Louis since 1967 – four years before it was even named St. Louis Lambert International Airport. According to the St. Louis airport’s director, none of the other mediocre concessions companies were even interested in the deal since they would only offer seven years (with a new terminal planned to open in the next decade).
Yet OTG even hired a local lobbyist to try to gain access to bidding – and the opportunity to place iPads throughout the airport. HMSHost keeps getting extensions with construction and uncertainty as the excuse,
In 1996, Host had its contract extended by over a decade rather than bid out because of time constraints due to the construction of Terminal 2, officials said at the time. And in 2019, the contract was extended for four years, with airport officials citing uncertainty because of discussions at the time about privatizing Lambert.
So what could possibly be going on here?
- One of HMSHost’s local partners has former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley as its lobbyist.
- Another local partner is co-owned by the publisher of a local newspaper.
- And both are major donors to the mayor and other influential local politicians – including to the Comptroller who votes for airport contracts.
St. Louis, known for its corruption, is not unlike Atlanta where you get airport concessions by kicking back to the former mayor’s daughter. But my message is simple. Airports can do so much better than HMSHost, OTG, and Delaware North. They just have to want to be better than the Gap.