Category Archives: Travels

Adventures while traveling

Airport Welcome Mats Are Out

by Kevin M. Burke
President and CEO

Spring has finally arrived across most of North America, and with it, the opening of the travel season. At ACI-NA, we are marking National Travel and Tourism Week by highlighting some of the ways we work to improve the travel experience for millions of domestic and international passengers.

To provide a more hassle-free travel experience, ACI-NA is actively engaged in advocating for more support and personnel for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to improve the customs and security processes in line with the projections for significant growth in travelers, especially international visitors.

The positive economic impact of international tourism begins at our airports.  Last year, a record 69.8 million international visitors – spending more than $180 billion dollars – traveled to the United States. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates 4.7 percent more international tourists will visit the U.S. this year, with more growth projected through at least 2018.

To meet leisure travelers’ growing needs, airports are working cooperatively with CBP to expand the Global Entry program, which now moves arriving travelers more quickly, efficiently and securely through 44 U.S. and Canadian airports.

We have also advocated on behalf of initiatives like the automated passport control kiosks, to move U.S. and Canadian travelers through the Customs process quickly and securely. A total of 10 airports, including Chicago, DFW, Houston, Orlando, New York, Seattle, Toronto, Miami, Montreal and Vancouver now offer this expedited service, and we hope to see more in the near future.

In fact, Orlando is now piloting with CBP a program to have these self-service kiosks available for non-U.S. citizens.

Airports are continually adding new services to improve every aspect of the travel experience.  We’re seeing everything from spas and children’s play areas to fine dining that features regional cuisine and retail attractions that offer sought-after international brands or local specialties.  For instance, just this past week DFW announced that it is adding high-end retailers to appeal to international traveler.  Innovative service amenities like this are designed to appeal to domestic and international travelers, helping airports become destinations themselves.

These efforts are paying off.  Denver, which has been undertaking its own service and retail expansions, set a record in March for the largest number of passengers traveling on international flights in a single month.

With the increase in international travelers, it is clear that airports are the front doors to our nation, and our members are working hard to make sure visitors have a good experience.

At The Gate and Ready To Go

By Kevin M. Burke
Today I begin a new journey – my ACI-NA journey.

ACI-NA's President Kevin M. Burke

I am excited to join ACI-NA as the new president and CEO. As only the sixth president in 66 years, I know that ACI-NA has a well-earned reputation as a respected organization with a staff of experts that Congress, executive agencies and the media call on for expertise on airport issues. I am looking forward to the challenge of enhancing its reputation so that the Voice of Airports is heard by even more both inside the Beltway and throughout the aviation industry.

I traveled extensively in my 13 years with the American Apparel and Footwear Association passing through airports on six of the seven continents. (If I knew that I would one day hold this position, maybe I should have kept a log of each airport I visited.) As a well-traveled end-user, I hope to bring a new prospective to the on-going discussions about improving airport infrastructure in the United States and Canada to ensure our global competitiveness.

While I am not coming from the aviation industry, I recognize the critical role that transportation plays in every day commerce here and around the world. For example, my former employer takes an annual snapshot of the economic impact of the apparel industry. In 2012, 4 million Americans working in clothing and footwear firms helped you get dressed and that industry contributed $354 billion to the U.S. economy. But in order to succeed these firms had to depend upon a massive transportation network, since 97 percent of the goods are made internationally.

Today’s economy with on-demand manufacturing and worldwide next-day delivery expectations could not function without up-to-date and financially-sound airports.

My job here at ACI-NA is to help our member airports gain greater flexibility so that they can finance and build the capital projects needed to handle tomorrow’s travelers and cargo.

There are bound to be many challenges in the years ahead and while the flight at times may be bumpy – with expected and unexpected turbulence, I am confident the landing will be smooth and our goals for a safe, effective and financially sound North American airport industry will be achieved.

As I said, the journey has just begun. We are on the runway, centerlines in sight and we are taking off.  Time to throttle up!

Creating Destination Airports

By Eli Rassi
While most airports have traditionally focussed on efficiently moving passengers through the curb-to-plane experience, today some are working to make the airport a venue for conferences, art exhibits, community events, and even birthday parties. The final session at ACI-NA’s Annual Conference was geared towards how airports can increase non-aeronautical revenues while building stronger relationships and business ties with their communities.

Seattle’s Olivia Ingram outlined the benefit of having a facility attached to the airport. It’s all about convenience: this branded corporate meeting space allows for clients to fly in and out of the city without having to leave the airport. The conference center has seven meeting rooms, and 8,000 square feet of meeting space, all generally located in the same area. With all inclusive pricing rates that include “plug and play” capability to A/V, built in screens, and complimentary parking, Ingram said these benefits help attract a variety of clients from the community. The corporate meeting center has grown since first taking off in 2005, and has grown to contribute roughly 30 percent of non-aeronautical revenues.

In Denver, Stuart Williams explained that the airport’s capital projects include a 519 room Westin Hotel (owned by the airport, but operated by Westin), a commuter rail station that will connect to downtown Denver and an open air plaza. In total, the project will occupy over 700,000 square feet.

And to show how much a simple event can increase non-aeronautical revenues, attendees heard from Rahel Kindermann Leuthard, from Zurich Airport, who joined the conference via teleconference. Birthday parties are a big attraction at the Zurich airport.

To give you an idea, 750 children’s parties for children between 5 and 12 years old have been held since 2008. They last about three hours and feature entertainment and an adventure bus tour. Due to the success of marketing the program to the community, the airport is currently booked for birthday parties into 2014.

In 2012, 77,075 visitors took part in guided tours and bus tours (up 19 percent since 2011) and the observation deck saw 422,530 people. Together, guided bus tours have seen an increase from 2007 to 2012 of over 70 percent. All of this, though, is attributed to the strong reputation that the airport built with the community for over 60 years. They have come to know and expect great service from the airport, and the airport delivers.

During the conference, guests heard that airports exist to serve their communities. There is no greater evidence than the efforts airport make to create emotional connections with their communities.

Here’s to the Guys and Gals in the White Hats

By Jane Calderwood

ACI-NA President Greg Principato noted in his opening speech Monday morning that he’d probably never look at the red and white color scheme again without being reminded of the great White Hat Volunteers of Calgary.  Based on the applause this comment elicited, it’s clear the audience shared his sentiment.

YYC's Norm Harvey, the deputy White Hatter, leads the delegates at the ACI-NA/World Annual Conference and Exhibition in the White Hat Ceremony.

The highlight of today’s opening session, for me, was the White Hat Ceremony.  Today’s ceremony, and the folks behind it, are truly representative of the western hospitality that is Calgary.  And while not everyone will admit it, a rather large number of attendees left the big hall proudly wearing their hats. The White Hat Ceremony dates back to 1950 and has been used to greet such dignitaries as the Dalai Lama Vladimir Putin and the rock group Aerosmith.  So we are in very good company.

We all know there is a proverbial ‘village’ behind every well run airport, and Calgary has more than 200 volunteers who greet guests and visitors and help them through the airport and ensures everyone receives a warm Calgary welcome. And it takes the efforts of the entire city to host an international convention, and YYC’s White Hat Volunteers have done Calgary proud.  I have yet to run into one who has not had a smile, a kind word and a plethora of helpful information (maybe because I look so confused?).

To App or Not? The Question Remains

By Tom Smith
Airport apps.  They sound sexy and cool. An airport with its own app appears so cutting edge.

But is an app the right strategy for your airport?

The topic of airport apps and wayfinding was explored in the June Centerlines and at the recent Marketing and Communications Conference in Sacramento.

At two-plus years into the world of airport apps the trend is still fuzzy and business plans remain to be proven.

An airport faces three decisions when exploring the world of airport apps and mobile wayfinding.

  • Decision one – develop a mobile version of the airport’s website.
  • Decision two – develop your own branded airport app.
  • Decision three – defer to a third-party app.

As part of an on-going Airport Cooperative Research Program paper on airport social media trends, a survey has found that of the 280 airports surveyed only 21 percent currently have a mobile website. The advantage of making an airport website smartphone-friendly is both the cost and the ability to control the information without a lot of technical know-how.

(Time out for definitions: A mobile website is a website that has been adapted for easy viewing on a smart phone or other mobile device. An app is a software application or program that needs to be downloaded and installed on your device.)

For example, Dallas-Fort Worth and Montréal chose to develop mobile sites before diving into airport apps. Montreal’s strategy is to grow the site and continually add new functionality and links. The airport now gets 100,000 to 125,000 visits per month on their mobile website.

The first mobile website that DFW rolled out was primarily text-based, like many mobile websites. It has since been re-designed extensively using icons and colorful graphics.

Phoenix Sky Harbor won the best website award in the recent Marketing and Communications Contest with its mobile website design. It too relies on icons to help guide users through the site.

In their presentations, Montreal and DFW both said they are now exploring the next step – building their own app sites.

The key advantage of an airport-owned app site is that an airport has greater control of the site and can extend its brand.  From a user perspective, an app has greater flexibility and functionality than a website, especially with its geo-location features.

A major problem with an airport-owned app is that few people may know it exists. A local traveler may be familiar with it and may have seen the local ads. However, a connecting traveler may miss the notices within the airport and never use it.

Minneapolis-St. Paul thought it had the best solution in 2010 when it paid to have its own app developed that would be part of the goHow network. The deal held out the possibility of sharing a revenue stream from advertisers.

In the end, the MSP site has generated about 24,000 users per year and not any revenue. The goHow network has been limited to less than a handful of full airport partners. In a deal that was implemented earlier this month, the network has been re-branded as FlySmart as new corporate partners become involved.

Third party airport apps run the gamut from those firms that simply harvest information from an airport’s website to those that develop a relationship with the airport. These firms provide free apps on most platforms and attempt to make their money through advertising and coupon deals.

There are more than a handful of these firms now distributing their apps. Two years ago when ACI-NA had its first airport app panel at the Marketing and Communications Conference in San Diego, one app maker predicted that within a year there would be a be shake-out and he speculated that Apple, Microsoft and Expedia were considering launching their own airport apps or buying one of the existing firms. It has now been two years and everything remains the status quo.

GateGuru, which has the highest profile, noted in its presentation in Sacramento that it now works with airports to update their databases as frequently as monthly. It has a program to provide coupon or discounts to various concessions within an airport.

While a third-party app may put an airport on the map at no cost, the airport has no control over its image and loses any branding opportunity. However, the third-party app is going to exist in the market place whether the airport cooperates or not so it is probably in the airport’s best interest to work with those third-party apps with a national reputation and a large user-base.

So what is the best strategy? Talk with your peers to see what is working best for them. An O&D airport could probably get by with a mobile website; however, it may make more sense for any airport with a substantial amount of connecting flights to thoroughly explore all the airport app options.