People in mind

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Above: Changi’s tropical butterfly garden in T3 lets transfer passengers experience a piece of Singapore while passing through the terminal.

Historically, airports have struggled to build a relationship with passengers, as they failed to communicate identity, history or social meaning in their homogeneity, the very things that make a ‘place’.

Over the past few years, the industry has, however, seen efforts to turn passenger terminals into real places that not only make money, but also pride themselves with a defined identity that encompasses elements of cultural storytelling and history, as airports become recognized as a gateway to a destination. This is achieved through a number of different factors:

Customer service

This is becoming an integral part of all progressive airports’ proposition. Passengers need to be seen as more than human freight, and be acknowledged as customers. Airports no longer have a monopoly on people living in their catchment, as we see more choice for passengers selecting which airport to fly from extending beyond ease of access, cost of flight and destination served. Stress-free processing, a pleasant shopping and dining experience, and being family friendly are becoming more important when selecting which airport to fly from.

The appropriate service proposition is, of course, highly dependent on the passenger mix. Understanding the various segments and their needs is essential to delivering a meaningful experience. It seems obvious that business travellers behave differently to package holidaymakers, and airports acknowledge the importance by commissioning passenger tracking studies that explore needs and requirements beyond ASQ (airport service quality).

Experiential commercial zones

These generate non-aeronautical revenue and are important to airports as they supplement the relatively steady aeronautical income and allow scope to increase profitability, but they are also strong drivers in creating an identity for the terminal.

Developing a terminal brand for a coherent offer in conjunction with the desired service proposition is essential in pulling commercial and non-commercial elements of passenger touch-points together for the creation of a desirable space. This is highly dependent on the passenger mix, as well as the scale of the airport and its route network.

Smaller airports tend to be more space constrained and will need to create a highly targeted offer to satisfy as many passenger needs as possible, with branding typically based around efficiency and convenience. Large hubs – driven by their very heterogeneous passenger mix and high share of transfer passengers – need to incorporate a much wider mix of innovative commercial offers to cater to their customers, and focus on relaxation and stress-free environments. Such brand focusses help to select a suitable commercial offer.

The leading airport operators are highly engaged with concessionaires and curate offers that achieve a sense of place, as we have seen at Heathrow Terminal 2 (T2) and its British theme. Retailers are encouraged to create experiential and entertaining offers that can be linked to cultural or sporting events, such as Jacob’s Creek featuring an eye-catching tennis display in time for Wimbledon at London Gatwick. When airports share relevant passenger data from passenger surveys and flight information with retailers on a collaborative basis, retailers are more confident to limit their SKUs, creating a boutique feel. Such clutter-free merchandising makes time-constrained passengers feel they have time to select and purchase.

Food and beverage

F&B is also evolving beyond over-priced sandwich shops, with the category becoming more integrated with the retail, both through better space planning that considers passenger needs, as well as the lines between categories becoming blurred. A Caviar House & Prunier can be both a champagne bar and a deli. Celebrity-led concepts, although not strong income generators for airports, make passengers come to the airport early to enjoy a quality meal. And emphasis on local brands helps differentiate the airport and create a sense of place, and supports the local community. Ink.Sack at LAX opened only its second branch at the airport, with the local ‘hero’ brand being able to reach out to audiences which might not otherwise have discovered the street side store.

Passenger services have also come a long way from bag-wrapping and airside hotels. Cultural elements are turned into entertainment for passengers, be it through cultural streets like that at Incheon Airport, South Korea, museums and libraries at Schiphol, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and even nature can be incorporated to take the airport away from being a ‘non-space’, as Changi has done with its tropical butterfly garden that lets transfer passengers experience a piece of Singapore. Other service innovations range from comfort and wellness offerings through to exhilaration for those who dare to try indoor surfing at Munich Airport in Germany.


This has always been a strong driver to communicate the identity of a building, and at Pragma we have worked with the most exciting and innovative airport design teams; the generous Terminal 2 at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, which opened in February 2014, and the Midfield Terminal at Abu Dhabi (due to open in 2017) are only some examples. But to make these architectural masterpieces work for the passenger, the commercial design is crucial. The overall commercial space allocation, as well as the category split and its distribution throughout the terminal and its interaction with passenger flow routes, seating areas and facilities, needs to be holistically designed.

At Pragma, we have seen passenger satisfaction increase in line with commercial revenue in airports that follow this rounded approach of terminal design and retailing based on the understanding of passenger needs and requirements. Not everyone can be turned into an avid shopper, but by transforming the terminal into a space with people in mind, travelling will become a lot less stressful and the airport the point where the journey truly begins.

Christina Röseler, consultant at Pragma Consulting, specializes in travel retail in airports. She advises on the areas of emerging retail and communication trends, consumer segmentation, space planning and revenue forecasting.

July 1, 2015

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