From your point of view, what are the main challenges for the placemaking industry in 2024?
Three areas spring to mind. First, permitting. Many outlets are 15 years or older. Adapting historic zoning plans to ensure the industry meets local and regional communities’ current needs is not always easy. Funding is another, with the industry requiring access to financing for its large capex needs. In addition, the increased focus on sustainability, from construction to consumption, brings extra costs and requires more value engineering.
VIA Outlets’ challenge in 2024 will be to expand on this year’s momentum, which means focusing on our 3R remodelling, remerchandising and remarketing strategy to keep the brand and guest experience fresh and continue to deliver outperformance.
What opportunities and trends do you see?
For the industry in general, improving consumer confidence due to lower inflation and the prospect of interest rate cuts, alongside a further rebound in tourism, should help drive performance in 2024.
The thousands of people working in the placemaking industry are responsible for making or breaking the experience for guests. We need to look at what more the industry can do to offer a great place to work, such as break out/relaxation rooms, free sustainable transport, sports facilities, etc.
In terms of our opportunities, in 2024 we plan to add 6,500 m2 to Vila do Conde Porto Fashion Outlet in Portugal, increase the size of Landquart Fashion Outlet in Switzerland by 4,700 m2, and thoroughly remodel Freeport Lisboa Fashion Outlet. We are also looking to add to our portfolio through acquisitions of under-managed outlet centres that could benefit from our intensive management.
In your view, are there fundamental and lasting changes that await the placemaking industry?
Omnichannel retail is the future, allowing brand partners to reach more consumers. Outlets are a central part of that strategy. Everyone from digital native brands to local, regional and international brands are now keen to have a presence in our outlets.
Green leases are also becoming the norm, helping outlets align their sustainability agenda with that of their brand partners.
Your recommendations/wishes for the industry and market participants.
Focusing on the guest experience is central to outlet centres’ outperformance. This extends beyond the discounts and premium brand mix on offer to encompass the high level of services we provide, from a wide range of F&B to loyalty programs and highly professional guest service desks.
Otto Ambagtsheer is CEO of VIA Outlets, and member of the ACROSS Advisory Board.