America on hold

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Left: Page Restaurant at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, developed by ICRAVE in partnership with OTG

The USA pioneered aviation, but as emerging economies build ground-up airports with innovative programming to enhance the passenger experience, long established American airports are sorely lacking in amenities and modern conveniences. As competition grows, American airports are under increased pressure to raise non-aeronautical revenues that enhance the customer experience and support future infrastructure growth.

With new technology that can speed up the check-in process and free travelers from the gate, aging American airports have an opportunity to actively engage travelers. Beyond filling passenger wait times, airports need to assess what opportunities exist – from new forms of retail, expanded wellness programs, integrated cultural institutions and enhanced amenity offerings – to position the airport as a destination in its own right. So the question becomes: if airports have this captive audience for an hour or more before their flight, what experiences might they be able to provide travelers with that reinvigorate the airport offering and provide real value to its transient population?

Reinventing the gate hold

At ICRAVE, we are introducing real change in the reinvention of the gate hold. Typically, the gate hold has been a sea of waiting room seats. Airports have been warehousing this real estate right beneath their nose, without capitalizing on the opportunities to generate revenue and create engaging experiences. ICRAVE has long studied the anxiety associated with travelers having to stray far from their gate, bags in tow, to find adequate food and retail items. Today, we’re transforming airports across North America, unlocking new opportunities for revenue with gate hold reinvention programs.

We’ve looked at these underutilized spaces in our own design process and redistributed them in a way that simultaneously makes them more engaging and raises non-aeronautical revenue. The team has implemented innovative solutions to convert the dreaded pre-boarding wait time into experiences that are meaningful and productive. These new destination gate holds may be reminiscent of a restaurant or hotel, with dining options and work spaces directly merged into the gate area, better and more flexible seating options, integrated technology, and striking design features that create desirable environments to spend time in.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Virginia, we worked with OTG to reimagine Terminal A to provide travelers with walkthrough markets, specialty retail and a tech-focused dining destination at the center of the gate hold area. While these innovations are helping airports deliver a better experience, it only scratches the surface of what’s possible.

Tranforming retail areas

I believe a real opportunity also exists to reinvent the airport retail program. As airlines make it harder and harder to check bags and carry-on requirements get smaller, the ability for travelers to purchase and carry merchandise within the airport may dwindle, and create a dilemma for airport operators. It begs the question, should retailers be carrying large inventories at all? What if the traditional retail store transformed instead into an experiential showroom?

By analyzing the problems with traditional retailing, we challenge ourselves to seek new solutions. These solutions range from enabling passengers to ship goods directly to their destinations, down to engaging travelers in branded experiences that don’t require a financial transaction at all. By surprising travelers with a mash-up of established boutiques next to pop-up stores, entertainment options, food fairs and homemade one-of-a-kind crafts, travelers will have reasons to look around, engage, and connect those unique moments to positive experiences that are a reflection of the city they’re in. Existing airports will be transformed through curated thinking of what these experiences can be.

Non-aeronautical revenues will continue to grow as airports find new ways to engage passengers with authentic offerings that enhance the overall experience. For those that consistently challenge and experiment with the status quo, the airport becomes a breeding ground for innovation. We’re starting to see the airport become a destination where travelers feel excitement rather than anxiety. So, what could be next?

About the author

Lionel Ohayon is the founder and CEO of ICRAVE, an innovation and design studio in New York City that develops concepts, builds environments and curates experiences for award-winning hospitality, airport, healthcare and workplace projects across the globe. Ohayon has led ICRAVE to become an internationally renowned studio, with extensive experience in creating immersive, meaningful environments. Leading his team to apply their creative process across disciplines, Ohayon has been at the forefront of redefining the modern airport since 2007.

January 22, 2016

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