NIRSC Study Tour to Frankfurt, January 2018

The NIRSC Study Tour this year focused on Frankfurt. The main purpose of this study tour was to:

  • Visit Christmasworld – the world’s biggest trend and order platform for the international seasonal and festive decoration sector
  • Visit a range of Frankfurt’s shopping centres to compare with NI Centres
  • Network with members of NIRSC

The tour party departed Belfast on Sunday 28th for Dublin airport, and then a quick 1.5 hour flight to Frankfurt. We arrived at the Hotel Savigny, Frankfurt, at around 9 pm local time. A quick freshen up and we just about had time for a group dinner at the hotel restaurant. This was a welcome rest after a long day’s travelling and a good opportunity to get to know the other members of the group before an early night in preparation for the following day.

On Monday 29th the coach departed from the hotel at 9 am. The sheer size of the exhibition centre was just unbelievable! It took half an hour to walk from the main entrance to Hall 11 where the Christmas World exhibition was being held. Christmas World is the world’s leading trade fair for seasonal and festive decorations, and is organised by Messe Frankfurt.  We had an unrivalled overview of the festive decoration market with its huge array of all things Christmas (and some Halloween). They even had the largest LED lit Gorilla/King Kong! The photograph in the album puts it into perspective. One thing is for sure, we all left the show with some fabulous ideas and fresh insights into what is available for shopping centres. The group was mesmerised by the lit up Cinderella carriage and horses. We learnt that it had been acquired that very day by the proprietor of a Las Vegas casino! There was something for everyone, from talking Christmas post boxes and singing reindeers to 25 m high Christmas Light Displays, and trees with nativity scenes for the more traditional look.

On Monday afternoon Caitriona and John from MK Illuminations had arranged a presentation for the group at their exhibition. They also very kindly organised our tickets for the event, and they hosted the group for refreshments.  Klaus Mark, CEO and founder of MK Illuminations, gave a personal bespoke presentation to our group, demonstrating that the design and supply of original and environmentally sensitive creative lighting are at the very core of MK’s company philosophy, supplying unique lighting features around the world. A “tour de force” far beyond Europe’s borders”.

We left the fair around 5pm exhausted, making our way back to the hotel in preparation for the evening’s group dinner and networking.

Tuesday 30th consisted of an all-day shopping centre tour. We visited various Shopping Centres within the catchment of Frankfurt Haan. The scale of the centres we visited was enormous compared to ours in Northern Ireland.  The first one we visited was Isenburg Zentrum in the North West, which had 140 stores but showed its age. It was obvious that the centre had gone through various refurbishments and had been extended numerous times.  It had a local, community feel about it and it allowed bicycles, pets and smoking! The lack of accessibility for disabled was evident and quite surprising. We are definitely ahead of the game back home in that respect.

The next centre we visited was the Hessen Centre. This scheme was bland externally and it was obviously one of the older schemes that we visited.  Whilst it was old, it was extremely well kept internally and was very clean. There was a charge on the door to use the toilets and there were interestingly 4 members of staff in the toilet area alone. We later discovered that the toilets are leased out to a separate company who are fully responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the toilets – an interesting idea!

Next was the Skyline Plaza.  Despite only holding the post for four weeks, the Centre Manager was very knowledgeable and gave us a thorough insight into the centre and what it offers.  Skyline Plaza opened in 2013 with 170 units expanded over 30,000 m².  The most outstanding part of the centre was it’s 8,000 m² roof top garden including a restaurant, monthly disco and a wellbeing centre (Meridian Spa). It was stipulated in the planning that the roof area had to look aesthetically pleasing to the adjacent high rise building occupants – therefore when viewed from above, the roof of the Skyline Plaza looks like a flower! We were surprised at the lack of footfall for such a large modern building, however they cater mainly for office workers. The footfall is 8 million pa, but they expect 3,000 more workers in the area and 3,000 plus residents and a new Metro station.  The ongoing development in Frankfurt was evident throughout the trip with many constructions sites and cranes dotting the skyline.

MyZeil was the last centre that we visited for the day.  This was a popular mall in the city centre and has quite a unique architectural theme. There was a modern steel structure of glass and concrete and as you approach the centre you are immediately struck by the eye popping glass façade in the shape of a vortex leading into the centre. The sky can be seen through the façade. We all came to the same conclusion “impossible to clean” but thought that in fact, they probably don’t bother to clean it. Walking into the mall the vertical air curtains almost blew you away! Effective but very noisy.  The interior had an interesting spiral shape with the continuation of the vortex, One of the longest escalators in Europe took customers from the ground floor to the top floor. A regional and international mix of tenants gave the centre a cosmopolitan feel.

On our last day there was a bit of free time in the morning for delegates to explore the city centre and locale. The group checked out of the hotel and were picked up at lunchtime to spend the last few hours of the tour a Loop 5. This scheme was by far the best of centres that we visited on the tour.  Loop5 was designed to be distinctive, accessible and unmistakeable! It definitely was, an innovation concept of aviation and all things aeronautical. As you enter the centre you immediately immerse yourself in the world of aviation, with propeller shaped seats, themed children’s play areas and rotation propellers suspended from the roof. A giant turbine of LED lights is positioned at the centre of the main mall. Even the toilets have a ‘cockpit’ behind the urinals – we were not sure if this was innocent, or very clever, but it did make us chuckle. It has 58,000 m² of lettable space and 170 stores. Once again the centre was noticeably immaculate and presented to an extremely high standard.

We thank you for joining us and for your feedback, some of which is summarised below:

“Christmasworld was inspiring and good to see rather than brochure, worth repeating every four, five years”.

“Surprised that dogs were allowed in all the centres”.

“They were all very clean with fewer bins on the malls than us”.

“Only two security staff on the floor in one of the larger schemes and cctv is not allowed”.

“Refreshing to see stores did not trade on a Sunday”.

“F&B in the evening was good and great to network with other members of NIRSC”.

“Full on trip and great to get to know some of our colleagues in the industry better”.

A late flight back to Dublin ended the tour but from the feedback that we have received, it was a worthy trip, inspirational, thought provoking and refreshing. Whilst we cannot foresee any centres closing on a Sunday, we are sure there will be a few new Christmas designs in Northern Irelands Shopping Centres this year!

Bobby Nicholson (Chairman)