Generation game

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Errol McGlothan, director of Airport Lounge Development (ALD), looks at the importance of different technologies and experiences to different generations

Millennials are forging new norms for leisure and business travel with a love of on-demand digital technologies and a desire for personalized experiences becoming the trademarks of their travel habits.

If you’re wondering whether the difference in generations really does matter, look no further than Air France’s unveiling of a new airline aimed at millennials and Uniworld’s attempt to launch cruise liners for 21 to 45 year olds.

Travel brands the world over are taking notice of differing expectations and prioritizing understanding the needs of millennials to stay ahead of the competition. And airports and the businesses within them should be no different, especially since behind millennials are the even more connected Generation Z who are lucky enough to have missed out on dial-up internet and were born into a world where mobile phones, instant messaging and social media are the norm.

How exactly do these generations compare to others? Recent research from Collinson identified the drivers for baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z when choosing an airport. While they all agreed that efficient check-ins and security clearances and convenient transport to the airport were the most important factors, there were some disparities.

For example, baby boomers aren’t as bothered about free wi-fi (46%) as Gen X (62%), millennials (66%) or Gen Z (67%). While the middle generations, Gen X (48%) and millennials (53%), are the keenest to have access to airport lounges. Millennials and Gen Z stood out as being the most in favor of personalizing their airport experience: from having the ability to click-and-collect products (44% and 42% respectively) to pre-ordering food and drinks (38%, 37%) and indulging in spa and beauty activities (both 26%).

Personalization is key
Consumers now expect the airport to be more than just a stop-gap in between their home and holiday. Airports and the brands within must therefore be doing all they can to map the needs of not only today’s travelers but also pre-empt those of future generations that will be filling terminals.

This shouldn’t stop at using the latest technologies to make movement at the airport more seamless, such as biometric check-ins or free wi-fi, as this is now expected by younger generations. The next differentiator for airports is providing travelers more choice of features and services, whether for entertainment, relaxation or dining, and also personalizing experiences where possible.

This could be as simple as creating different ‘zones’ for passengers to spend their time in, depending on what they want to do. For example, the Gatwick North Club Aspire Lounge has a quiet space for business travelers to hook up to free wi-fi and work, while there’s also a relaxing area for people to enjoy a glass of wine while reading their book.

And it goes without saying that using customer data to personalize marketing emails, tailor loyalty rewards or notify individuals via airport beacons of sales at their favorite shops, is now also a must for brands that want to get close to their consumers and keep them coming back for more.

Creating experiences
Inviting pop-ups into the departure hall every month is also effective in creating memorable experiences for travelers and varying their time spent there. We’ve seen this with Changi Airport’s Hello Kitty-themed playground and Bulgari’s retail showcase in Helsinki Airport. Las Vegas Airport even launched a pop-up wedding service on Valentine’s Day! We expect to see more of this as airports seek to make the most of their real estate to entice travelers.

While airports and brands should continue looking to cater to the desires of millennials and Gen Z for more seamless and digital services this won’t be enough to stand out in the coming years. All airports are digitizing, recognizing the need to keep up with more tech savvy competitors. If the tech playing field is levelled it’s up to airports and brands to create captivating and personalized experiences to really capture the hearts of travelers.

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