As discussed earlier, COVID-19 has had a profound effect on air passenger behavior, and this has typically translated to a fear of crowds and being in close proximity to others for an extended duration. Pre-pandemic, airports were already moving away from using holdrooms as a dominant waiting space and efforts were underway to spread out customers and engage them by creating new services and amenities. This crisis will accelerate the trend to a more decentralized experience, creating a variety of new spaces to cater to specific preferences and tolerances of the three passenger types – the camper, roamer and explorer. For instance, the desire of campers and roamers to wait in a less crowded space could be accommodated through office or resting suite rental or private seating pods that are distanced. While the explorers that wish to socialize or even climb an indoor mountain could also be satisfied.
COVID-19 driven “working from home” may present an interesting opportunity for airports. Passengers, especially explorers, may be tempted to get away from home and arrive at the airport early to do a day’s work before taking a flight. Airports could respond to this by developing a compelling co-working offering as part of the commercial experience that is integrated with retail, food & beverage, entertainment and wellness.
This approach responds well to the “dip in-dip out” culture of work that co-working represents.
Reservations at security screening may also result in passengers choosing to arrive early to avoid waiting in line, just as dinning apps lure us to arrive early when preferred times are taken. “Optimized scheduling” applications in high demand terminal environments will flatten the arrival curve, resulting in some passengers spending more time in the commercial areas and less time waiting in line. Of course, this will change both the revenue model and the commercial master planning and design of the terminal.
Airport retail has been changing for years – moving from traditional brick and mortar concessions to self-service kiosks and more recently changing to on-demand delivery to your gate by leveraging capabilities of mobile devices and location-based services. These services have been popular with campers and their popularity has only expanded during COVID-19. The pandemic has trained people to be comfortable with delivery-based shopping, reducing the need to physically shop at stores and shopping malls. Airport retail was already evolving in this direction prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated these changes because of passenger’s newly found comfort with online/delivery shopping.
When consumers travel through airports, they often have a very different mindset than when they are on main street or in shopping malls. They engage with brands in a very different way in airports, and so we refer to them as “Transumers” (Travelling Consumers).
Transumers are often in an unfamiliar environment, they can be disoriented and stressed. They may also be over excited, and adrenalin driven. The degree of these behaviors varies by the three passenger types with campers being the most stressed and explorers the most excited. To respond to this unique mindset, we must plan and design intuitive, simple and easy airport commercial offerings. Research has shown that many passengers find the airport commercial offerings boring, uninspiring and uniform across the airports they visit. To gain the attention of the Transumer the airport commercial experience must deliver surprise, constant newness and serendipity, along with good value and convenience. Airport retailers, brands and food and beverage operators must design and deliver their offers to meet both physical and emotional needs of the Transumer. Airports have the opportunity to deliver new experiences, ideas and brands that differ from shopping malls by communicating clearly and accommodating groups with baggage.
Consumers now expect a range of service options in addition to conventional delivery to lounges, gates or arrivals. Airports now should consider more personalised geo-located delivery anywhere in the terminal either by person or robot. In the future, consumers will expect goods to be delivered into the trunk of their car, which they will be able to open remotely from wherever they are, as their cars will be internet connected.
A luxury fulfilment experience is another future option. A concierge type offering in a lounge setting that showcases branded products and services while delivering customer’s goods directly to them as part of a premium hospitality experience would appeal to all three passenger types.
In the future, completing transactions will consume less of the physical retail space. Increasingly, brands will use the physical spaces to recruit customers and then drive them to online E-Commerce sites or social media platforms. So, the future airport commercial masterplan will shift space from accommodating transactional retail space to customer “recruitment” space. The former will be more conventional with fixed units segmented into retail categories. However, the latter will take the form of a stage set or exhibition space, which would appeal to both roamers and explorers. To deliver the experiences that recruit customers, space will need to be infinitely programmable to accommodate event driven experiences that are blended with food, wellness, entertainment, social and dwelling spaces.
The Transumer journey will become increasingly elastic, whereby brands will need to engage with customers along the whole journey, i.e. before, during and after the airport visit. Mobile connectivity and engagement will be the glue that binds a continuous journey experience.
When brands use the physical spaces in an airport as customer recruitment platforms, they are behaving like a media brand. Airports have the potential to become the most powerful and effective media platform available to a brand. This new approach greatly changes the design and planning and design of the terminal.
It also has the potential to reduce capital and operating expenses because modular, open-cell, programmable spaces are more cost effective to build and operate.
The specific passenger profile at each airport will drive how airport commercial zones are divided between transaction and recruitment spaces. Planners will need to use targeted passenger surveys to understand each airport’s unique mix of the three passenger types and how they want to experience their travel.
While terminal concourses are predominately where the opportunities for transformational design interventions exist, check-in and security screening will also change or more specifically continue their evolution. The requirements for these spaces have changed over the past decade due to the advent of technology, which will continue to drive their transformation.