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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on January 4, 2013

On cloud 10: Toronto Pearson's airport rebrand and American Express sponsorship

Sergio Pulla discusses Toronto Pearson’s rebrand and its pioneering sponsorship package with American Express.

Toronto Pearson is committed to offering an excellent guest experience, but at the same time, we have a business to run, so over the last two years we have been actively looking for new ways to generate advertising and sponsorship revenue while continually adding new and improved guest services.

Raising the bar in terms of how we interact with our guests – through new and exciting programmes – allows us the opportunity to surprise and delight our guests. While increased non-aeronautical revenue allows us flexibility in terms of investments and in terms of lower rates for the airlines. 

In fact, we’ve just announced a 10% reduction in airline fees that will be locked in for three years. The increase in non-aeronautical revenue played a large part in our ability to pass savings on to the airlines.

In June of 2011 we rebranded Toronto Pearson and, with a focus on better serving the needs of guests, the airport authority undertook considerable research to discover and understand whom we were speaking to. 

Very quickly we learned that the airport world is no longer divided into two categories – business travellers and leisure travelers. In fact, the research revealed five guest segments at Pearson, each with different feelings, behaviours and requirements.

We classified our guest segments as:

  • Suits on the Fly –  they spend their time in the airport working and they expect simple, hassle free processes.
  • Gate Potatoes – keen to reach their destination; they spend time window shopping or walking around.
  • Experience Seekers – seasoned travellers who consider their time at the airport as a part of their trip; they shop and explore airport offerings.
  • Open Minded Chillers – they want to get in the air but they make the most of their time at the airport; they will wander, listen to music and read.
  • Sufferers – every trip is a test of endurance; they don’t stroll much and they keep to themselves.


With this new consumer focus we wanted Toronto Pearson to be the great host of travel experiences, we wanted our passengers to feel like guests; welcomed, relaxed and delighted and, like all good hosts, we will anticipate their needs to make their experience at Toronto a positive one.

We also realised very quickly that the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), with 1,100 employees, could not deliver on the customer experience alone. We would have to work together with our partners both at the airport (airlines, agencies, concessionaires) and look for external support. 

As everyone in the airport industry knows, budgets are stretched to their limits. To meet and exceed customer expectations, we realised that a partnership with a major sponsor could help us elevate the customer experience while generating revenue.

After more research and months of proposals, negotiations and contract work, a partnership was developed with American Express. In June of this past year, we announced our first major partnership. 

The Cloud 10 partnership goes far beyond traditional advertising with the real focus of our relationship on adding services and
benefits for our guests.

Working together, we were able to improve the travel experience for guests at Toronto Pearson, while addressing some of our own business challenges.

After the announcement, we quickly began working with American Express and its agencies to develop a joint vision for the partnership, which also helped with the development of a creative visual of the guest experience at Toronto Pearson.

The benefits of the partnership will provide an improved experience at a variety of touch points at Toronto Pearson. There will be benefits from the moment passengers arrive at the airport, to the moment they are returning and everything in between.

The benefits include:

  • Sponsorship of free Wi-Fi Internet access for all guests.
  • An American Express-sponsored post security area for all guests.
  • Sponsorship of unique entertainment experiences for all airport guests.
  • A 15% parking discount at Express Park in Terminal 1 and Daily Park in Terminals 1 & 3 for select card members.
  • Sponsorship of exclusive fast-track priority lanes through airport security in both Terminals 1 and 3 for select card members.
  • Exclusive taxi service at arrivals for select card members.
  • Complimentary valet parking services for select card members.




At the centre of any partnership is the customer experience.

We were able to showcase to American Express that we share similar consumer segments and that we would be able to create the right and unique experiences for its card members. 

They were interested in two of our segments: Suits on the Fly and Experience Seekers as the two groups aligned with their key consumer segments. 

American Express already has strong brand awareness in the travel industry. Our partnership allows them to further build on this by demonstrating their unique understanding of the airport travel experience.

From the airport perspective, the Toronto Pearson brand is fairly young, so by aligning ourselves with a trusted leader such as American Express we were also able to enhance our brand perception.

The sponsorship programme has been almost two years in the making and was started in parallel with the rebranding project at the airport. We learned very early on that senior level buy was a crucial component of making progress on such a complex partnership. 

We also learned that if an airport wants to expand their sponsorship and advertising relationship, flexibility is an absolute must. Each meeting and brainstorming session must be undertaken with open minds and creative thinkers in order to be successful.

The main challenge that we faced in developing the major sponsorship programme was shifting the perception of the airport as an advertising canvas. We’ve spent considerable time and effort letting business partners and potential advertisers know that we are open for business and that the mentality of ‘business as usual’ is a thing of the past.

Toronto Pearson’s partnership with American Express reinforces our commitment to providing exceptional service to our guests, generating non-aeronautical revenue and being innovative in a sector that must be looking forward to make progress.

We are open for business and we are committed to working with partners to enhance the brand and reputation of everyone involved. Most importantly, we continue to work to create programmes that support our guests’ needs and expectations.

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