The hospitable airport
Gilles Bussutil, vice president, global guest experience, at leading airport lounge and travel experience provider, Airport Dimensions, explores the concept of hospitality and what it means in the airport environment.
At the lounge, a warm welcome and a respite from the rigours of travel is, of course, expected. But a welcoming airport has many facets.
The airport journey is comprised of many touchpoints, each of which contributes to providing a sense of hospitality. And a welcoming environment is about more than a comfortable seat or a well-chilled glass of wine – it’s also something that creates an emotional response.
Our airport passengers’ paramount concern is to get to their flight on time, and that everything is being done to make their journey as stress-free as possible. Clear communication is needed before their arrival at the airport through to their departure, helping them understand where they need to be at all times.
Passengers want communication to be as straightforward as possible with minimal touchpoints. Removing stress makes for a happier traveller, and one more likely to engage with opportunities at the airport.
Yet all too often, airports are a collection of experience silos, and rather than taking a holistic approach, they behave like an orchestra with no conductor. Moreover, some parts of the journey, such as passing through security, are often neglected when it comes to thinking about whether or not they add to the calm or increase stress, resulting in ‘hospitality’ being overlooked as it goes on the back burner. However, travellers rightfully expect a joined up and seamlessly good experience.
The airport is a place in which a multitude of experiences contribute to the welcome that their host city extends, and everyone that is part of the airport’s infrastructure has a role to play. Each person at the terminal, from a smiling flight-crew member passing by, to the helpful check-in team member, creates an impression.
The sentiment evoked by all of these interactions may pass almost unnoticed, but each builds indescribably to the sense that everyone is working to serve the same customer and that everyone shares responsibility for that guest.
While lounges, airport F&B and retail are often regarded as the experts of what hospitality can look like, by working in partnership we can share learnings and create a common blueprint to deliver a warm welcome across the terminal.
Digital technology can help here. A platform that can bring all the actors and services together in one tool can considerably help to create a seamless and reassuring experience. Digital order and pay options, for example, can take the stress out of dining, shopping or booking facilities, enhancing the human element of service.
Today’s travellers are used to doing almost everything seamlessly on our phones. Not facilitating this at the airport is not just a frustration for the traveller, but a missed revenue opportunity.
And there is much to be gained. In our post-COVID world with longer dwell-times, people are walking through airports looking for entertainment. While some are dashing to their flight, many want to enjoy their time at the airport by seeking guidance on how to do so.
Keeping them informed on available amenities so they can choose their own paths rather than randomly choose the first restaurant, bar or shop they see can allow them to truly customise their experience.
Letting them know where they need to be and when allows them to make a call on whether they have time to relax. This will lead to greater satisfaction with their airport experience, but it follows that it will also encourage more spend.
Airports must find the perfect balance that today’s travellers seek. Ease of access, simplicity, choice and control offered by digital mobile tools. Pairing these with the warmth of staff members committed to offering a more personal, and more bespoke service, will lead to an improved customer experience across the airport journey.