Food for thought

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Which technology, event or phenomenon has had the greatest impact on the passenger terminal to date?

It’s hard to single out one particular development, but clearly most recently, international events such as 9/11, the SARS virus and the Icelandic ash cloud had a major impact on the way terminals are operated and the way passengers behave in them. We in food and beverage (F&B) have changed to meet the changes in demand this effects, such as an increase in dwell time, which means demand for different formats of F&B. There has been an increase in dwell time airside versus landside, and even though there is still a strong need for F&B landside the offer has had to adapt

This century is being shaped by the increasing influence of the internet and the changes this development brings. At the airport, where passengers’ ability (if not demand) to be connected to friends, family and work is having a profound effect on what passengers want from a terminal and how they expect to use it. In F&B outlets, wi-fi is now expected as standard and other conveniences such as online ordering are becoming ever more integral to the experience of eating and drinking at an airport. I do think that there will be some false starts on technology until it finds its place. For example – pre-ordering is a great concept in principle but can backfire if the customer is unable to get to the product they’ve ordered in time due to delays in security, etc.

What one thing has improved the passenger experience or terminal operation in the last 20 years?

There is no doubt that standards in F&B have improved dramatically in recent decades. This is partly because of the growing interest in food (the explosion in popularity of cookery programs and the rise of the chef as the celebrity in many countries such as the UK and USA bear witness to this), its quality and its provenance has been increasing, and just as this has driven an increase in standards on the high street, it has also meant customers expect much more from bars and restaurants at a terminal.

Right: More passengers are opting for a

gourmet dining experience

Our consumer studies have shown that the percentage of passengers with a less sophisticated approach to F&B (a category we

call ‘routine re-fuelers’) has halved since we first looked at this in 2007.

This has also been underscored by the commercial pressures faced by airport operators in a highly competitive market. As non-aeronautical revenues continue to become increasingly important airports continue to place more emphasis on creating outstanding retail

and F&B where passengers can really indulge themselves. Airports are also playing their part

in driving the focus on quality F&B. They see it

as a key element of the statement they want to make to their travelling customers about the overall experience they offer, and how it can

differentiate them from other airports

What are some of the key changes you expect to see in retail/F&B between now and 2034?

Again it’s not any single thing. One key trend will be a blurring of the distinction between the airport and the high street as airports seek to bring the best examples of local and international brands to the terminal and conversely the best airport innovations move out to the high street.

As on the high street, customers at the airport will seek a more personalized experience and offers that allow them to tailor their order to their specific needs. Innovations such as pre-ordering, more refined ways to chose and order grab and go products, at-gate service or online at-seat ‘lounge style’ delivery are all part of this evolution. 

Which airports already offer a glimpse of what the future may hold?

F&B, as many aspects of travel retail, is becoming more immersive and more experiential. Two airports that stand out in tapping into this phenomenon are Copenhagen in Denmark, for its outstanding food festival campaigns that have been allowing passengers to enjoy the very best local cuisine, as well as Manchester in the UK, where partnerships with Manchester-based small-scale operators such as a local ice-cream maker and a local brewery, have give customers a genuine flavor of the regions finest produce.

Outside F&B, I would cite London Heathrow, for its real commitment to using technology to improve the passenger experience at T2, as well as airports such as Kuala Lumpur and Changi, which both boast impressive garden features, and Amsterdam Schiphol for its art gallery. These are all examples of genuine initiatives to help the passenger enjoy being at the airport, and add new dimensions to the travel experience.

In terms of technology I also see London City Airport as something of a pioneer in the way that it is seeking to integrate all its systems to provide information that will give their (predominantly) business passenger the most accurate information about their journey through the airport and on to their destination.

Left: The rise of the celebrity chef is a

key trend in airport F&B

What new types of passenger will we see emerge 20 years from now?

The growth in air travel will undoubtedly continue on its upward global trajectory as this century continues. This is likely to mean that regular flying is likely to become more of lifestyle choice for an even greater number of people.

While the picture will vary from developed countries to those in emerging markets, as more first-time flyers take to the skies, it is likely that we will see a broader spread of passengers, from the experienced flyer, to those embarking on their first flight. As the global age profile shifts, we are also likely to see an increase in the number of older passengers. This will of course have an impact on the F&B offer at an airport.

There are also a number of key demographic changes that will drive this. For instance, more of the global population will become better off and this will generate a significant increase in travel (which is increasingly seen as a lifestyle statement). For example in the next 10 years GDP per head is predicted to grow in Asia by 50%, in Latin America by 30% and Africa by 27%. I also think there will be a skew towards older travelers combining business with leisure travel (there are plenty of predictions about how the current 50 year olds will continue working into their 60s). This will create a sophisticated traveling sub-set interested in new things, used to quality and prepared to pay for it.

How will the retail/F&B offering at airports change over the next 20 years?

The trends that affect F&B on the high street will also impact the airport, but some will be specific to the airport. The increase in the number of Asian travelers, for example, will continue to have an impact. Most airports now understand the importance of providing for the Asian passenger. Now however, the Asian passenger is having an influence on ‘standard’ offers, and items that were considered as specifically for these passengers such as kimichi (fermented cabbage), are now appearing on a range of menus.

The increasingly ‘contactless’ nature of technology will open up a raft of possibilities. Bluetooth technologies that recognize a customer and tailor a product or service to their needs and preferences, or can inform a passenger of issues that could affect their journey and the choices they make on it (such as delays, or the arrival of a delivery of freshly baked breads) are with us already. They will move into the mainstream soon, putting passengers in control in way they have never been before.

Airline’s increasing unwillingness to serve food will mean that more passengers will want to take food on board. This is nothing new, but with technology that enables passengers to pre-order and be served where they want is making such services much better and much easier. 

What is your bold prediction for the future?

‘Luxury’ will become increasingly democratized. The airport massage for example, once the preserve of the first class passenger, can now be accessed by all, and this trend will continue. As a consequence, those who can afford it will be driven to seek more ‘extreme’ experiences – in F&B this might be mineral water from a polar glacier, or beef from a particularly rare breed of cattle.

I also think travelers will use airports to meet other needs. For example, longer-haul travelers with longer dwell-times may take the opportunity to visit health clinics for a tune-up/check-up or a spa for a massage. I can foresee airports offering more of these services beyond the traditional F&B and retail.

September 19, 2014

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About Author


Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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