Which technology, event or phenomenon has had the greatest impact on the passenger terminal to date? Fairly recently there has been a trend toward bringing celebrity-chef driven restaurants and local favorites from the street into airports. This has been an exciting time to be able to provide travelers with a ‘sense of place’ when they’re at an airport, and to partner with some of the best chefs and brands from around the world. HMSHost has been at the forefront of this dining evolution, with over 200 local restaurants. But along with that comes considerations of how best to represent these brands, with limited kitchen space and intricate menus, sourcing ingredients that maintain the brand’s integrity, and ensuring that the experience travelers have in the airport meets, if not exceeds, the experience they would expect on the street.
Along with these restaurants, HMSHost has also developed its own portfolio of high quality brands. We’ve seen a change in traveler demographics – there’s been a significant increase in women travelers over the years – and we’re developing restaurant concepts that appeal to these travelers. This is a major effort within our organization; we are calling it the ‘Femenization of Airport Dining’. Beaudevin, a wine bar we developed, is an example of this. We’ve found that this audience often seeks open spaces, healthier dining options, creative cocktails, welcoming seating, more light and ambience, etc. They will find that at Beaudevin, with locations at Chicago O’Hare, Miami International Airport, Charlotte Douglas, our most recent in San Diego International Airport, and one in Brussels Charleroi Airport.
But travelers also want to see brands they know well and trust – national favorites such as Starbucks, Carrabba’s and California Pizza Kitchen continue to be sought out.
It is important to provide a balance of local and chef-driven restaurants, with proprietary brands and well-known national favorites. The best airport dining programs have a combination of these so there are options that will appeal to business travelers and families.
The introduction and adoption of smartphones and other mobile devices has had a major impact on travelers. More and more, travelers are finding everything at their fingertips. They want real-time, relevant and often personalized information. They’re expecting to find apps aligned with most services. The convenience delivered by these devices has played a big role in our interaction with travelers. This opens up many opportunities to reach customers, but also requires constant innovation and engagement.
What would you say has improved the passenger experience or terminal operation in the last 20 years?
Many airports are becoming dining destinations in their own right. Travelers are seeing much more variety at the airport. At O’Hare you can have some of the best sushi you’ll find anywhere, you can relax among growing herbs and vegetables in the aeroponic Urban Garden, you can try celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ famous tortas sandwiches, enjoy some bubbly at a piano bar, or sip gourmet cocktails poured over eight different types of ice. And that’s just at one airport. At Phoenix Sky Harbor, travelers can find all the most popular street side restaurants that the Valley has to offer in one place – right in Terminal 4. If you were to visit all of the great restaurants on the street that Terminal 4 has to offer, you would spend several days in the car, driving from one restaurant to the next. Travelers did not find all this at the airport 20 years ago.
The expansion of the internet as a source of information has also brought significant changes. Speed of service driven by technology has become a part of the dining and overall traveler experience. Online booking, kiosks, menu pads, mobile payment, and using apps to place an order and have food delivered to your gate are all aligned with giving travelers more control and convenience.
Right: The aeroponic Urban Garden at O’Hare
What are some of the key changes you expect to see in retail/F&B between now and 2034?
The size and location of an airport will play a big part in what changes travelers will see over the next 20 years. Larger airports with more space may have more opportunities, but we can expect that the technology in most airports at that time will be incredible. Static signage will be replaced completely with digital graphic displays, video, and virtual displays. It would not surprise me to see facial recognition software that will know your preferences and customize menus and ordering options just for you. Can you imagine if you had gluten allergies and when you stepped to the counter the menu changed and featured all of the gluten free options available. I believe we will see these types of advances in the next 20 years.
Travelers will want to be connected to everything, whether it is through their mobile device or some other future technology, and they will constantly seek ways to better use their time. They will be able to identify all available airport dining locations through GPS and make their decision on where they’ll spend their time and money before they reach the airport. All menus will be available online with nutritional information right at their fingertips. They will expect to have online access wherever they go. Social media will play an even bigger role in their lives.
Multicultural food will play an even larger role in the future. As our population expands we are becoming more diverse and more ethnically mixed. Travelers will seek out new and interesting tastes as well as those foods they were raised on. While the all American hamburger will still be powerful, we are going to see a dramatic increase of Middle Eastern, Asian, African and Hispanic influences in the foods were are providing.
Which airports already offer a glimpse of what the future may hold?
Chicago O’Hare is pretty cutting-edge with its dining program. It has so many great offerings and has made significant strides in sustainability, with more to come. HMSHost participates in many green programs and local sourcing at the airport.
The DBE partnerships we have at Phoenix Sky Harbor are very strong. We are working with these businesses to help prepare them for an even bigger presence in the airport in the future.
LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal has some amazing new restaurants. HMSHost has brought some of LA’s favorite street side locations – ink.sack, Border Grill, The Larder at Tavern, Chaya, Real Food Daily, the first all organic concept in an airport as well as the first food truck to actually serve travelers inside the airport. What’s fun about the food truck is the traveler is going to have a say in what it becomes. Through social media, we will be talking to the consumer to see what they want. For a few months we may serve lobster rolls and then later in the year the food truck will transform into a Crepery or into Asian Fusion. For the first time in an airport, the consumer can tell us what they want, and we will find the food truck operator to fulfill their desires.
Left: The ink.sack restaurant concept at LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal
What trends will have the biggest impact on the future terminal?
All parts of a traveler’s journey will be connected through the internet, as the internet’s capabilities expand, referred to as the “internet of things”.
What new types of passenger will we see emerge 20 years from now?
The next generation of travelers will seek more customization to fit their individual needs. We will see travelers be able to customize almost any meal and have It served in a quick service format. As kitchen technology improves, we can produce more, faster and with less space.
As the millennial generation ages, they will demand more information delivered to them at a quicker pace. They will want to know where their produce was grown, is it organic, was the protein treated humanely and is it sustainable? Price will be important but social responsibility will be just as important.
Social media and staying connected will play an even bigger part in the overall traveler engagement and experience. We will need to reach travelers directly on their personal mobile devices or through the latest technologies the future will reveal.
But it will also be important to not replace the necessary human interaction that makes the difference between simply purchasing food and having an actual dining experience. While technology will be king, friendly and knowledgeable customer service will never be obsolete. With so much information rushing at us, in 20 years I believe restaurants will provide a chance to slow down, unwind and enjoy a dining experience. The technology will make the operations more efficient but the human interaction will still be critical in most dining experiences.
How will the retail/F&B offering at airports change over the next 20 years?
Customization – customers will be more and more willing to provide their personal information if it’s used in ways that makes their life easier. Companies will be able to use this information to understand customer needs and to better tailor offerings to individuals. Security and privacy of information will become an even greater concern – there will be a fine line between getting closer to customers while still giving them privacy.
Connection – travelers will be connected to everything through the internet. So an integrated, online airport experience with the traveler in mind will be necessary.
What will the airport terminal look like in 2034?
“Internet of things” – an advanced type of connectivity will tie the traveler experience together, and will give travelers maximum control over their entire journey. Everything is likely to be automated and integrated.
With all things connected through the internet, airports will become “cyber hubs”, allowing travelers to do check-ins, drop off bags, have personalized meals, be notified of their flight status or queue status, etc. all through the internet.
If you could introduce one type of technology or process to improve airport design (ignoring any price or technological constraint), what would it be?
Connectivity will affect all aspects of an airport. For instance, the space taken today for the security process could perhaps someday be minimized to a single gateway that passengers walk through. It may have facial recognition, a retinal scan, or other types of technology to do the job that today takes a lot of valuable airport real estate. With more space, airports may have more opportunity to then offer additional entertainment, restaurants and retail that lead to a more enjoyable experience.
Please make one bold prediction for the airports of the future
I predict that travelers will eventually be able to arrive at the airport with every minute of their time there already planned out in advance. Through technology, they will be able to plan for seamless transactions – their restaurant reservation, seat preference, customized menu, food and drink orders, check payment, etc. will be pre-selected, so when they arrive, they will receive their order as it was placed, with time savings and convenience always being important to travelers.
September 25, 2014