Airports for the Future

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By Elias Rassi
Wednesday morning at ACI-NA’s 2013 Marketing and Communications Conference featured one of the most popular and inspirational sessions from Coca-Cola’s Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripodi. This blog isn’t about Tripodi’s presentation; however, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what it meant to the staff and guests to hear him speak.

Tripodi discussed Coke’s efforts to grow its brand and help connect customers to its various products through unique experiential marketing campaigns. Perhaps the most impressive happened in March 2013 when the company set out to break down barriers and create a simple moment of connection between two nations – India and Pakistan – in an initiative labeled as “Small World Machines.” These machines provided a live communications portal between people in both countries and showed the power of human connection far surpasses the differences that set us apart.

Tripodi also showcased how Coke bridged the gap between the creative side and the technical side by bringing people together with the sounds of their favourite sports during the 2012 Olympic summer games in London. The challenge there was to come up with a creative experience for visitors given the amount of space that was provided. What you’ll see and hear was a game changer at the Olympics for the fan experience.

Now, for the real point of this blog – talking about the session titled “Airports for the Future: Trend for Serving Tomorrow’s Travelers”. This session featured Bob Hazel, who is a partner at consulting firm, Oliver Wyman, and CNN Airport reporter Holly Firfer.

Oliver Wyman's Bob Hazel

Both Hazel and Firfer touched on something very important about the future of airports: the most successful airports realize that they are part of a competitive ecosystem, but are willing to work together to enhance the customer experience. Airports are taking experiences that travelers would see outside of the airport and bringing them as part of their overall travel experience, combining fitness (airport yoga, anyone?), fresh and healthy food, art exhibits, interactive directories, and communicating with passengers like never before. People are starting to realize that airports offer a lot more to the overall travel experience than the transition point between ground and air.

(The June edition of Centerlines also takes a look at this topic, including the unique way Finland’s airports sought to improve customer service.)

CNN Airport's Holly Firfer

And there is no doubt that, today, the airport experience is better for what it provides its customers.

Airports have a variety of customer groups and extend their focus beyond the airlines and airport environment. The most successful airports in the world understand strong customer orientation that speaks to each individual group and has a strategy in place to maximize their relationship. Creating a customer profile by segment will help understand which groups generate more revenue for the airports. Airports need to know as much as they can about their customers, about their behaviours and about their spending habits.  Over the past five years, airports and airlines have improved their relationship and it’s a sign that they are starting to truly understand each other’s business.

How we can talk about the future of, well, anything really, without talking about technology. Technology plays a significant role at our airports, and it’s important to use or invent your own innovations, create a unique amenity for users that they will love and helps create a unique identity for that airport.

As for what the future holds for airports, there are a few ideas from Hazel’s presentation:

  • Check-in process will likely disappear, moving towards automated processing and curb to plane experience will be more direct
  • Bag drop will be linked with automated recognition cards, making it quick and easy
  • Security will be better and more civilized, same with border control
  • Better dining and retail choices
  • Bag drop will be linked with automated recognition cards, making it quick and easy
  • Bag tracking like you would a package from FedEx or UPS, reducing the chance of losing luggage
  • Airports will focus on developing innovative customer services and look for ways to distinguish themselves and make themselves enchanting
  • Quite simply, as Firfer put it, airports are becoming mini-cities.

Life moves very fast and even faster once you’re in the airplane. So, take a moment, stop and look around the next time you’re at the airport. You may just realize how wonderful they truly are.

And, if you want more information, Hazel in 2012 wrote two reports looking down the road, The Future of Airports: Five Trends that Should Be on Every Airport’s Radar, and The Future of Airports: Eight Ways Airports Can Differentiate Themselves from Competitors