Curating the Guest Experience: The Choreography of Selling.

“Our design approach is redefining the relationship of airports to the people who use and work in them, and to the towns and cities which they serve.”

The number of people travelling by air will double to over 12 billion by the 2030s, all of whom begin and end their travels at airports. To meet this enormous demand, airport design has been undergoing a fundamental overhaul. This is taking place both in terms of the delivery of new terminals and the upgrading of existing buildings and infrastructure.

Our own approach as architects is redefining the relationship of airports to the people who use and work in them, and to the towns and cities which they serve. 

From our experience, the following trends will shape the airports of tomorrow:

  1. The repositioning of airports from being anonymous international hubs to demonstrably defining a clear ‘sense of place.’
    Increasingly, airports want to communicate a strong image of regional identity to users which is reflected not only in the overall look and feel and the architecture, but also in the sort of products and services which can be purchased in the retail and F&B areas.
  2. The growing influence of global providers of shopping centres helping to shape the way in which the retail offer at airports is designed, to maximise opportunities for passengers to use their pre-boarding time for shopping and dining.
    Companies have been partnering with airport operators for some time to improve the retail offer at particular airports in return for a larger share of the investment potential that long-term growth in passenger numbers is likely to yield. This is an arrangement that will continue to evolve over the next decade.
  3. The emergence of a wider choice of landside facilities—not only retail but other alternative revenue drivers.
    Other alternative revenue drivers such as golf courses (e.g. the SkyCity Nine Eagles course at Hong Kong International Airport) or combined shopping, business and recreation centres (e.g. the Munich Airport Center), are responding to the growth of populations living in close proximity to airports who increasingly regard these well-connected transport hubs as upmarket extensions of their local high street offers. Schiphol in The Netherlands was one of the first airports to exploit this opportunity and the planned Project Jewel at Changi in Singapore will take this to another level providing a new ‘retail theme park’ in an extended Terminal 1 building, partly to serve the significant numbers of transfer passengers but also to provide a new retail experience for Singaporeans arriving by train from the city.
  4. The implementation of new technologies (especially via mobile devices), which contribute to the creation of a particular consumer experience and enhance a shopper’s choice in, and control over the retail offer.
    An example of this implementation of new technology is the introduction of hundreds of ipads at Delta terminals in US airports which assist travellers with placing their F&B orders. In addition, smart technology which recognises the presence of passengers within airport terminals—usually synched to their personal mobile devices—is already fundamentally changing our approach to the design of the next generation of airports. In a growing number of markets, passengers will be allocated unique digital identities, significantly reducing the number of stages required in the boarding process.

    This will allow airport operators to focus on providing expanded landside retail facilities which maximise the potential for passengers, airport staff and visitors to shop in a way that is not feasible in the configuration of most existing terminal buildings. This reconfiguration could help to draw in more ‘local’ shoppers—people living within 10-15 kilometres of an airport—who increasingly regard it as an extension of their local retail environment.

In recent years, the airport offer has moved away from a more generic—even ‘global’—shopping experience towards balancing efficient operations and creating an ‘authentic’ retail experience—or one which reflects the experience of a shopping environment in a location close to the airport. Global brands are less in evidence, replaced with local providers and products.

Underpinning these developments are strong forecasts for increases in passenger numbers in the future. Annual growth in global aviation passenger volume is projected at 4.1 per cent over the next two decades, according to the Airports Council International’s 2013 ACI Traffic Forecast Report. This creates a clear opportunity to drive more income from airport retail. But to do this, airports must focus on creating the right ‘mood’ and a mindset for ‘guests’—rather than passengers—to want to shop. Our experience suggests that a satisfied airline passenger is someone who is given the opportunity to shop in comfort and style at the airport, rather than someone pressurised into spending money on a limited product range in an uninspiring environment. 

“Successful airport retail in the future will offer shoppers a sense of being in a unique space with its own identity and sense of place.”

Another trend we may start to see emerging is the development of partnerships between airline alliances and operators of large retail facilities in terminal buildings.

Under the existing model, the link between a retail offer and an airline is generally made only during flight time. However, the opportunity exists to reassess how this model could shift towards an integrated delivery approach in airport terminal areas and how this would impact on the sort of products offered inside the aircraft. Analysis undertaken by the airport market research firm DKMA supports this.

The typical high street shopping experience should be the driver for new airport retail design; an approach that offers shoppers a sense of being in a unique space with its own identity and sense of place. Creating this can be achieved through careful and thoughtful design. 

Our experience at Woods Bagot suggests that airport terminal design needs to focus on three central components: Catering to the ‘guest experience’; developing a sense of ‘city pride and identity’ around an airport’s retail and dining offer; and encouraging a memorable transit for passengers. If the retail offer is well designed and integrated with the rest of the airport design from the outset, it can have a huge impact on the ability of retailers at airports to engage passengers and keep them focused on the shopping experience for longer. It also puts them in a far stronger position to optimise the use of new consumer technologies which are increasingly shaping shoppers’ buying decisions.


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