Reviving the traveling consumer

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Consumers have long-since crossed the threshold of a mere awareness of health; they are now constantly anxious about their wellbeing. Traveling brings these concerns to the fore – whether that is because of foreign foods, disorientation, adrenalin, jet-lag or the general state of flux. Airports need to find ways to reinvigorate these consumers and engage them with shopping, eating and drinking.

Finding ways to ease the stress of traveling is key to creating a pleasant and even enjoyable airport experience. With the number of air passengers expected to double by 2033, the sheer numbers of travelers being catered to will increase the pressure for airports to become not only more efficient, but also places to rest and recharge.

According to a recent report by APH (Airport Parking & Hotels), 50% of people said that the most popular method to combat the stress of air travel was to arrive with plenty of time for their flight. On average, a person spends 150 minutes from the moment they arrive at the terminal until the moment they board the plane, so why shouldn’t that time be used to create an enjoyable experience?

The stresses of air travel will soon be shouted about as TripAdvisor, the travel review website, has recently announced that it will be launching dedicated pages for over 200 airports. The pages will encourage travelers to rate and review all aspects of their experiences at the airports.

But what are airports currently doing to improve the passenger experience? Providing spaces to help passengers unwind seems to be the key to easing the stress of travel, and spaces for disconnection and mindfulness have already emerged to allow travelers a moment of peace.

Left: The yoga room at San Francisco Airport Terminal 2

San Francisco Airport (SFO) opened the world’s first yoga room within an airport in Terminal 2 in 2012 and now has another in Terminal 3. The rooms are located after security, where waiting times are particularly enervating. Open 24 hours, the rooms have become a pit stop for traveling yogis and created a ripple effect, with many other airports following in SFO’s footsteps and opening their own yoga rooms.

Helsinki Airport recently launched TravelLab, a project dedicated to testing activities that help travelers relax through departures and transfers. Run by Finavia, the initiative is designed to engage or ease the stress of travel, and includes yoga and pilates classes as well as a Taste of Finland food concept, which includes pop-up restaurants and crash courses in coffee making. This initiative has been launched in preparation for the 20 million passengers expected every year through the airport by 2020.

And for the non-yogis who simply want a piece of peace? Narita Airport in Tokyo provides four Silent Rooms, which have been recently rebranded to Prayer Rooms in an effort to become a more Muslim-friendly airport due to the influx of passengers from Islamic countries. However, according to Narita Airport’s website: “Prayer Rooms are available for all prayer, devotions, meditation, contemplation, reflection, silent thought or any spiritual activity in tranquil surroundings”, therefore opening this space to all travelers who need a moment to tap into their meditative consciousness.

Left: The enchanted gardens at Changi Airport

But reviving the traveling consumer is not just limited to quiet spaces and yoga rooms. Green spaces and nature enclosures have been proven to reduce stress and some airports have taken this on board. Changi Airport in Singapore is renowned for integrating nature within the airport with its Butterfly, Cactus, Orchid and Sunflower Gardens; Beijing Capital International Airport has a pond and Kuala Lumpur International Airport offers a rainforest. The Indoor Zen Gardens at Dubai International Airport combine a mindful, quiet space with nature.

It doesn’t really matter which initiatives airports choose to enhance travelers’ time in the terminals: as long as they ease the stress of travel, they can turn the dreaded airport experience into something that passengers look forward to as much as they do the rest of their trip. Airports, if designed thoughtfully, can be perfect places to provide suspended time for jaded travelers during their hectic journeys.

July 9, 2015

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