Global restaurateur HMSHost is part of Autogrill S.p.A. – the world’s largest provider of food and beverage services for travellers and along with the rest of the Autogrill Group are recognised industry leaders who create innovative dining locations at airports worldwide. Here, RLI speaks with Walter Seib, CEO of HMSHost International about the growth of the company and what its next steps are.

The company was purchased by Autogrill in 1999 and today operates under two banners; one is HMSHost, which is utilised across North America, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, and then there is the Autogrill brand which is used especially in Southern Europe, in countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Greece.
“Our HMSHost International brand operates around 560 stores in 19 countries,” explains Walter Seib, CEO of HMSHost International. “We are predominantly positioned within airports, 41 in fact. We are then situated in seven shopping mall and outlet centres and 33 train stations.”
In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the business had to rethink their overall strategy to survive. The priority had to be to preserve cash and save as many jobs as possible across the multiple markets in which they operate. But as Seib highlights, for a company that has been operating for as long as they have (over 120 years), this is not the first crisis they have had to manage and most likely it will not be the last.
As we move onto the topic of recent site openings, it becomes evident that Walter and the team are extremely proud of their work at Manchester Airport Terminal 2, which went ahead and opened despite the obstacles the pandemic presented and the development includes five outlets, KFC, Wrapchic, their own juice and health concept VIT, bespoke concept Amber Alehouse which partners with local brewers Seven Bro7hers and local coffee concept Pot Kettle Black.

Pot Kettle Black - Manchester Airport - UK
Pot Kettle Black, Manchester Airport, UK 

“We also extended our Schiphol contract in the middle of the crisis. We have a long-term partnership with them and as partners we need to work together in good times and bad so to highlight this fact we extended our partnership until 2036, an unusual move in the industry but one that makes a bold statement and reinforces the partnership,” Seib says.
Looking ahead, the company has recently signed a joint venture with Qatar Airways at Hamad International Airport to develop food and beverage outlets together. They have already opened one small kiosk, there are more to come in the next four or five months and then the second batch of openings will be in the middle of next year.
They have also won a very competitive tender for outlets in Bali, Indonesia and they are continuing investment in their India operations with some announcements in the offing.
As for new markets, this is not something HMSHost is looking at for the moment as they are still in recovery mode. What they want to do in the near future is grow their presence more in the countries they are already present in through additional channels.

Amber Alehouse- Manchester Airport - UK
Amber Alehouse, Manchester Airport, UK

As the discussion continues, we ask Seib about social media and how they operate in these channels?
“In many cases we are part of the total experience within the airport so we work together with our airport partner or the landlord in order to tie-in with their promotions, and their social media strategy. So we partake in different activities, but I don’t need to tell you that today everything needs to be Instagrammable!”
Even before Covid-19 HMSHost was accelerating their digital strategies, however in the last 18 months they have pushed more their digital platform called YOP (Your Order Please) where guests can order and pay using a QR-code. Whether standing outside the restaurant, or even while waiting to go through security, guests can order ahead. Similarly, while dining in, guests can use the QR-code platform for a contactless experience.
So what does Seib feel makes HMSHost stand out, and what is the ethos of the company?

Cafe Coco - Schiphol Airport - The Netherlands
Cafe Coco – Schiphol Airport – The Netherlands

“I believe our mission and vision differentiates us of course, but more importantly we have a program that we rolled out in the past two to three years called Return on Attention. This is based on treating everyone how you want to be treated yourself. It is about honesty and transparency, some important key values that need to be embraced from the very top and lived every day.”
Looking to the future, Seib remains as positive as always and believes fundamentally that people want to travel and make memorable experiences and that HMSHost is still an excellent business proposition.
“One of the greatest challenges for us is that we are still in recovery mode. Not only us but airports, airlines, retailers, hotels… the whole tourism industry and while there are signs of recovery, we are not out of the woods yet, this recovery remains a work in progress,” says Walter.