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“Seamless Leisure – Seems More”

In an interview with ACROSS, Gastón Gaitán, Manager and Director of theleisureway, explains why leisure is a branding instrument—the identity of the whole shopping center is at stake.

ACROSS: For our readers, could you give a sketch of theleisureway profile?

GASTÓN GAITÁN: Sure, we are complete leisure solution providers with a profound, hard-earned understanding of commercial environments. theleisureway (TLW) is a cutting-edge company combining the power of consultancy, creative design, technical development, and the controlled delivery of integral solutions. theleisureway people are enthusiasts, a collaborative multidisciplinary team of leisure experts, creatives, strategists, architects, engineers, project managers, and designers.


ACROSS: So what is causing a buzz at TLW?

GAITÁN: We are so proud: We have just finished an intervention whereby the owners wanted to breathe life into a shopping mall to make it more dynamic. The challenge was to introduce a new focal point, a leisure solution that lives alongside retail, increases flow, demands attention, and is visible from a distance while connecting the two levels of the mall. We needed to create an icon, in other words. Of course it needed to be light and not impede vision.

Now we have a gallery full of life where whole families have found excitement and surprises. Images of this thing are going viral. We have broken barriers: Families with kids were once hesitant to go to malls—or even to go shopping. We’ve turned it into a day out that includes climbing, sliding, running, and being free.

It really does help parents to be with their kids. We all have this problem of so little free time at the weekend. You have to juggle practical things. You have to do the weekly shop and buy clothes, even as your heart is saying “I want to be with the kids!” I really believe we are bringing families together.


ACROSS: Could you talk us through your Singapore project?

GAITÁN: Of course. Marine Cove is our first project in Asia. It’s a development near the beach; the brief was to integrate the food court area within an area for family gatherings. The site is 4,500 sq m of fun for the family with an 8-meter-high, lighthouse-inspired tower that forms the central drawing point. theleisureway has transformed Marine Cove.

It changed from being an empty lot to the hottest meeting point on the coast. It´s a tasty cocktail—an ample, wide-ranging, food and beverage offer with a TLW leisure solution in the mix. Residents enjoy it as an asset for the neighborhood. As a family destination, it really is working out and the turnover of visitors is impressive. The community has turned the project into a social hub with obviously favorable commercial results.

The project is very visual, essential for the brief with plenty of shaded zones, although it is an outdoor area. You see it as you drive along the coast from the beach and it´s just a step away. I would have to list it as another success within the TLW portfolio.


ACROSS: What’s your view of current trends in leisure?

GAITÁN: The trend is that customers are searching for a more singular leisure offer. Here at TLW, we work to offer coherence and integration—a holistic approach. Clients are asking us for new “flavors” for the total visit and for complete solutions. Previously, leisure was a “dot” on the shopping center’s map. The “magic formula” must be to grasp the concept of a seamless approach, with no physical borders separating experiences.


ACROSS: You mentioned “a seamless approach.” How do retail and leisure interact within that?

GAITÁN: Leisure is a branding instrument, a move towards an emotional embracing of the client and as such, the thinking behind it should be very controlled and coordinated—the identity of the whole center is at stake. Guests should move effortlessly through retail and leisure. The geography of the center must allow for a journey without barriers. This will help to distribute value within the whole of the mall.


Image: theleisureway
Image: theleisureway


ACROSS: What vision do you have of the customer’s journey? What emotions and experiences do you envisage?

GAITÁN: The journey must be fun and full of discovery, a time to be with friends, family, and even to fall in love. Our work on Puerta Venecia is that kind of journey: dynamic, surprising, and with a “flow.” Traditional infrastructure doesn’t encourage this path. In the search for leisure, some developers are considering theme parks attached to their centers.


ACROSS: Do shopping centers want to direct so much of their customers’ time and budget to such a singular activity? How much cross-over would that produce?

GAITÁN: Theme parks, necessarily, have a very strong, emphatic image which could draw attention and resources away from the principle retail experience. We prefer, sorry to repeat myself, a more seamless customer journey.


ACROSS: Why does theleisureway recommend so heavily that their clients partner with them from the brief to construction?

GAITÁN: Strategy comes from the start. In order to get the best results, we need to be integrated into the masterplan team, bringing our expertise to the table and the pipeline of the process.


ACROSS: How do the elements of a TLW leisure ecosystem come together to give meaningful shopping sensations?

GAITÁN: Traditionally, leisure experts were not there from the brief, not part of the total thinking. Leisure therefore came last on the list most of the time as an appendage or filling of an awkwardly placed space. Leasing teams searched for operators within a limited, often unoriginal pool. A healthy ecosystem is interrelated with all parts nourishing the whole towards growth.

There are some “Frankenstein” malls out there, whose leisure offers are unoriginal, with disparate body parts and uncoordinated decisions producing some monstrous results. There was a push to sell space as a service in a box. This of course led to a high failure rate, vacant areas, and a weakening image.


ACROSS: What about value? How can leisure shape the total value of a center? What about taking leisure out of the box and giving it a role throughout the center?

GAITÁN: Let’s keep in mind that TLW has the full spectrum of the industries’ professionals on board. So we were in search of collaboration and integration. We have to be part of the team. To have an overview, we work shoulder to shoulder with developers, landscapers, lighting experts, architects, and food and beverage experts. This calls for coordination and results in injecting leisure into the system. I believe this raises quality and uniqueness and gives the projects the “wow” factor.

Today’s visitors to malls are looking for a complete offer. People now move so naturally from online to physical stores that they require an experience—an event. It’s clear that there are so many emotions and feelings at play when deciding in which center to spend time and cash. To make memories, malls have to appeal to some quite deep driving factors within the customer’s consciousness. We are talking about lending some significance, turning a transaction into a day out.


ACROSS: How has the TLW global portfolio developed?

GAITÁN: This question is vital for theleisureway. With work in Russia, Singapore, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, and the Czech Republic, we are offering our complete leisure solutions within an international environment. That clearly comes as a result of ample experience in the leisure industry, which has given us a wide range of strategies and responses. However, I would like to underscore that the TLW method defined and modelled through our projects is grounded in our close relationship with clients.

We have great respect for our clients, reflected in our dedication to finding the correct answer to each brief—to adding value. There are, as you can imagine, numerous factors to be discussed and decided in each bespoke leisure solution. This requires hand-in-hand tactics while working with stakeholders. Logically, as theleisureway brings understanding to leisure solutions.