To increase airport revenues, start putting the passenger experience first

To increase airport revenues, start putting the passenger experience first
Jul 24, 2017
5 Min. Read
The key to improving passenger experience at the airport may come down to something we all learned in kindergarten: The Golden Rule.

“We have all sorts of different personalities coming through checkpoint every day, from celebrities to people who, this is their first time flying and they’re scared to death. We like being that person there to help them through the first part of the process.”

“We are like a family here.”

“It’s a community once you step inside the airport, and it’s a great place to be.”

These are just a few things staff at Nashville International Airport had to say about their place of work as part of the Nashville Airports Experience (NAE) campaign. The program — which also features anecdotes about staff members who have gone above and beyond for visitors — calls for employees to refocus on people by extending a warm welcome, offering exceptional service, and treating others as you wish to be treated. In short, NAE strives to make sure that passengers don’t see their time at the airport as a pain, but as a memorable experience.

NAE is just one example of how airports are investing in passenger safety, comfort, and happiness — before and after takeoff. Campaigns like this aren’t just good for morale, though; the data show that a better experience at the airport can improve customer loyalty and increase non-aeronautical revenues, too. Successful implementation, though, may require a change in an airport’s culture to focus on customer service and to develop programs that resonate with each traveler. With that in mind, here are a few ways to start thinking about the passenger first.

Go Beyond Buzzwords and Get to Know Your Customers

Building loyalty among customers requires a deep understanding of your market segments and the people you serve. Commercial aviation executives must dig deeper than the data and marketing buzzwords and start thinking like people. Start by defining your passenger personas. What are their interests? What motivates them? What frustrates them? What do they love about travel (and what could they do without)? Use methods like cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys and interviews to learn more about how your visitors might answer these questions.

Once you have a solid understanding of who is visiting your airport, determine how well you’re meeting their needs — and where you’re falling short. Are security and customs processes efficient? Is information — from flight times to maps to first aid — available and accessible throughout the airport? Are the terminals easy to navigate? Complete analyses to identify where issues at every stage of the airport experience. Are your customs and immigration lines too lengthy? Consider big data analyses to optimize performance. Are passengers bored during long delays? Think about incorporating amenities designed to surprise and delight weary travelers.

Armed with this kind of information, you can start to envision a more specific visitor experience and make decisions about how to realize it.

Develop a Brand Strategy That is Rooted in Local Culture

Passengers are trending away from mass-market products and want items and services that reflect the personality, culture, and identity of the region they visit.

When a passenger lands in your airport, can they identify the city or region based on the terminal? Can they distinguish this particular airport from any other? It sounds like a silly question, but the answer can tell you a lot about the strength of your branding strategy.

Here’s why. Passengers are trending away from mass-market products and want items and services that reflect the personality, culture, and identity of the region they visit. The good news is that airports have a unique opportunity to celebrate their respective regions — cultural offerings, history, art, natural wonders, tourism draws, and more. Whether they’re staying in the area for a few hours or a few years, visitors can experience a slice of all the region has to offer without leaving the building.

Integrate local arts into the program and develop communal gathering spaces similar to those in the area where residents and visitors share meals, stories, and friendship. Try to create a mix of well-known local/regional brands (think Garrett Popcorn in Illinois or Seattle Chocolates in Washington) with national/international brands to create a unique airport concession program that exists only at your airport.

Prioritize Experiences, Not Things 

Today’s consumers are more interested in enriching experiences than they are in products. The “retail-tainment” trend has taken hold in other industries, but it extends to the commercial aviation world, too — airports are starting to invest in more intuitive design that accounts for the diverse needs of passengers, from commuters to vacationers. Some have instituted “slow stops,” like pet relief areas and rocking chair-lined terminals, where visitors can take a moment to unwind. Others are adopting a “retail-tainment” approach that blend traditional airport amenities, like food and retail, with more unexpected ones, like music, art, and greenery. Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport, for instance, was recently a recipient of one of the 2016 Airport Service Quality Awards. A DFW spokesperson credited the airport’s investment in a larger customer experience team with the achievement. 

The better you understand your passengers’ journey, the more you can do more to anticipate their needs. Passenger experience and employee culture initiatives like NAE, for instance, provide an opportunity to weave a “person”-centric mantra throughout the concession program’s entire lifecycle: goal setting, programming, and implementation in an impactful way. While we know that passengers’ number one priority is to locate their departure gates, ideas that enable them to slow down and appreciate their surroundings could make all the difference.

Remember: Passenger Experience is a Work in Progress

Your airport’s passenger experience initiatives — first and foremost — require a strategy to uncover what is most relevant and important to your passengers as individuals. Many disciplines could potentially serve as the focal point of a passenger experience enhancement strategy — just ensure that yours is focused, impactful and empathetic to the needs of your passengers as individuals.

Meet the author
  1. Stephen Freibrun, Principal, Airports and Americas Sector Lead, Aviation

    Stephen advises airports on commercial strategies, with more than three decades of management and real estate experience in the public and private sectors. View bio

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