On The Horizon: Airport Trends of the Future
By: NELSON Worldwide
As the world continues to rapidly shift in the wake of the pandemic, the travel industry has a unique opportunity to leverage this lull to reimagine the passenger experience. Not only to create resilient environments that provide guests with confidence and control, but offer travelers a compelling experience that’s as memorable and engaging as their final destination. From the retail offerings, to unique, differentiated amenities, an airport that distinguishes itself from the rest will have a competitive edge for years to come.
#1: Authentically Local
Consumers are traveling with a desire to experience cultures different from their own. Airports have the opportunity to use this desire to their advantage and offer unique experiences that immerse travelers in the locale, both at arrival and departure. Going beyond simple aesthetics, airports should find ways to offer meaningful community support or partnerships to create a sense of place and cultural appreciation. Set the bar high with exclusive experiences that set the tone for their travels, and leave visitors craving more.
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World cultures integrate themselves into the airports
- GLOBAL PORTALS: Gates develop augmented reality windows that act as “portals” to the destination. Travelers can interact with people at their destination and vice versa.
- LOCALIZED FARE: Chain restaurants are replaced by concepts that bring the local flair into the traditionally homogenized airport environment.
- EXPERIENCE CULTURE: Rentable pods within the airport are available to travelers that immerse themselves in the culture of various destinations, e.g. karaoke pods to help represent Japanese karaoke culture.
#2: Creating an Ecosystem
Airports must evolve to become more self-sufficient environments that enable travelers to have more control over their experiences. As expectations of service and amenities have accelerated during the pandemic, airports of the future must become more convenient, functional, and efficient developments to meet consumer demands. Unlike struggling malls, airports have a constant source of captive traffic, so the focus will shift from making money from airlines, to making money from the passengers in terms of commercial revenue, through more service-based offerings.
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Airports and the areas surrounding them become self-contained cities
- PACK LESS: Consumers no longer pack for their trips as they rent clothing from sources like Rent The Runway and pick up their options in the airport upon arrival.
- MOBILE EATS: UberEats or similar partnerships allow for mobile food orders to be delivered to locations within the airport or set for pick up at a gate before or after a flight.
- SERVICE BOOM: Elevated amenities that have become a commonplace during COVID-19 like food delivery, meal kit pickups, or streaming on-demand fitness become expected airport offerings.
#3: Elevated Experiences
Many travelers will embrace the ‘Travel Less, Travel Better’ mantra in the coming months and years, being more discerning with their plans while looking for opportunities to upgrade the experience. From business travelers to jet-setting millennials, airports can appeal to this need by offering exclusive amenities that cater to this growing market looking for premium, private, or unique perks.
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Travel may be less frequent, but guests will look for premium offerings
- CONVENIENT COLLECTING: Gate pods will deliver items such as toiletries, food, or other necessities so travelers don’t need to carry them or include in their carry-on bag.
- THE NEW VIP: As the areas around airports develop with restaurants and entertainment options, services derived from hospitality spaces will become more common – including expedited transportation packages for users with security clearance from restaurant/hotel–to–gate.
- PREMIUM PRIVACY: Business and luxury travelers will look for more private spaces to relax and recharge away from the crowds – think nap pods, exclusive lounges, and private spa offerings.
#4: Holistic Health
WELL-certified environments have grown increasingly popular in recent years and that desire will only accelerate post-pandemic. Travelers will be looking for both visual and non-visual cues that an airport is fresh, clean, and safe. Providing more spaces that encourage holistic wellness will go a long way in strengthening guest confidence. From indoor gardens, to rooftop lounges, to private meditation rooms, airports will need to cater to stressed travelers looking for an opportunity to relax and recharge in a safe environment.
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Emerging wellness trends become mainstream and easily accessible
- THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Secure, outdoor space will become an expected offering for passengers – from outdoor dining facilities to public rooftop pavilions.
- ELEVATED TRACKS: Indoor tracks that are elevated above the terminal are accessible to those who want to exercise without being confined.
- SENSORY FITNESS: Immersive rooms can be rented out and change in theme to leave the user feeling transported and provide additional health benefits.
#5: Adaptive Environments
As touchscreen technology continues to decline, travelers will rely on their mobile devices to help navigate their journeys. This provides an excellent opportunity for airports to become the true curators of the passenger experience. From check-in, to dining, to entertainment, airports can utilize adaptive technology with inputs from mobile devices to make the experience more relevant and meaningful. The ability to create dynamic experiences through environments that adapt to consumer mood, flight schedule, location, and even weather, will be a true differentiator.
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Customers regain control of each step in their travel experience
- FLEXIBLE FURNITURE: Gates have flexible seating that changes based on the type of traveler coming through – conversational layouts for families or individual seating for solo travelers.
- PERSONALIZED ENVIRONMENTS: Consumers have the ability change their own environments in seating locations including the heat, airflow, and even aromatherapy scent.
- THEMED ZONES: Gates and terminals develop themes through lighting, seating styles, and digital graphics that adapt to the time of day, season, and flight destinations.
#6 Cultural Influencers
From sustainability initiatives to social movements, airports have a unique opportunity to be part of the conversation. Leveraging a captive audience and an expansive platform will fuel partnerships with private brands, local government, or even non-profits to bring a unique environment and message to life. These temporary activations not only create an exclusive destination but can also be an opportunity for new revenue streams, premium experiences, and PR buzz.
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Becoming a more socially-minded platform
- BRANDED EXPERIENCE: Gates or terminals have brand sponsors, creating unique environments that celebrate their product or service, relevant to travelers.
- TARGETED FUNDRAISING: National agencies like the National Park Service provide unique activations within applicable airports that can bring awareness or funds to their cause.
- SOCIAL VOICE: Messaging in support of various social causes will be implemented within airports giving these initiatives a more global stage.