Forward-looking airports are transforming their terminals into lively, visual, and on-brand destinations that aim to relax travellers and instill a sense of calm during times most typically associated with stress and anxiety.
A recent study found that happy, relaxed airport customers are twice as likely to shop and will typically spend 7% more on retail and 10% more on duty-free goods – a boost to airports’ non-aeronautical revenue streams at a time when the industry needs it most.
According to ACI, while non-aeronautical revenue streams account for 46% of the total operating revenue for all US airports, around 41% of that revenue comes from airport-offered parking and ground transportation, which are under threat from transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Uber and Lyft, not to mention the looming specter of autonomous vehicles.
Therefore, airports see a need to boost non-aeronautical revenues from retail, F&B other sources and many are going about it by cultivating terminal tranquility. And increasingly these efforts involve the use of immersive, cutting-edge audio visual technologies.
Sit back and relax
Relaxation is not typically a feeling associated with time spent in an airport. For years, the airport experience has been about long, slow-moving lines, anxiety-ridden security screenings, and delays suffered at nondescript gates. But entertaining and engaging terminal experiences that feature state-of-the-art digital and audio visual technologies are helping airports reimagine the passenger journey.
At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, for example, a 140-foot long display screen in the airport’s newly refurbished Concourse A features renown digital artist Refik Anadol’s unique ‘data sculptures’ that turn invisible patterns of data into captivating, relaxing and ever-changing artistic content.
Two more large screens (approximately 40ft and 28ft long) also display Refik’s work and all three are visible from outside the airport, with the effect of creating a welcoming experience.
Meanwhile at Singapore’s Changi Airport a massive 230ft long by 33ft high LED display features stunning 3D visuals produced by audio visual design firm Moment Factory. The display is located in a security screening area, which has turned the normally tedious screening process into a far more engaging and less stressful experience.
The idea behind both AV installations is to make travel frictionless, speedier and more enjoyable for passengers, giving them more time and energy to explore the rest of the airport, and more reason to travel through the airport again in the future.
Airports are also using audio visual technology more often and creatively as an effective advertising platform. Operators are replacing static messages and images with attention-grabbing digital content that can respond to consumers’ mobile phone activity or shared information networks.
At London’s Heathrow Airport, for instance, small, digital billboards deployed by global business publication the Financial Times, target specific passengers flying to six pre-selected US cities. The technology taps into Heathrow’s flight data via an application programming interface (API) to target only these passengers with ads relevant to the destinations they are travelling to.
While at London’s Stansted Airport, officials recently deployed a 39-foot long large-scale curved visualisation system. The display is not only helping travellers find their flight information, but the brightness and size of the display also provides a dynamic tool for advertisers to get their brand message across in a way that is highly engaging for customers.
“Airport advertising creates significant brand awareness and sales by helping advertisers reach highly coveted audiences such as the affluent frequent flyer and the key business decision makers around the world,” says Morten Gotterup, president of Clear Channel Airports, which recently concluded a study that revealed that airport advertising is a particularly effective means of delivering brand messaging to consumers.
Cutting through the noise to improve communication
Airports are cavernous, noisy, and filled with simultaneous messages, whether displayed on signage or announced over PA systems. AV technology, however, is helping airports to communicate more clearly and concisely without distraction.
Directional audio and subliminal wayfinding allow airports to cut through the noise and relay important communications to terminal passengers.
Directional audio, a technology that delivers soundwaves to targeted locations such as a specific gate or in front of just one display, has become an important way in which to enhance in-terminal communications and thereby deliver an improved travel experience.
“I recently visited Reagan National Airport travelling to DC and was amazed how, at a busy airport with a lot going on, I could walk up to a screen and whether it was a news feed or sports feed, I could hear the audio for only that screen and not another nearby screen,” says Jeff Roach, manager of Fairbanks International Airport in Alaska.
“Zonal [directional] audio is really a great technique for not overloading a person and allowing them the experience that you’re trying to give them without all the distractions.”
Subliminal wayfinding has been long used at airports to guide passengers through the terminal, to various destinations, without communicating with them directly or consciously.
The international terminal at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, for example, features signage with a curved top to match the undulating aesthetics of the terminal’s roofline; next door, however, the domestic terminal features standard rectangular signage with hard-edges.
Shapes, fonts, colours, and even floor tiling have long been used to subconsciously communicate a sense of place and direction at airport terminals. However, increasingly, airports are using audio visual technologies, such as lighting and aural cues, to better facilitate subliminal wayfinding.
At New York-JFK’s JetBlue terminal, for instance, glowing blue walls not only provide guests with a branded experience, but they also guide passengers to key activity points and urge them down long hallways or up stacked escalators.
While San Diego International Airport features ‘The Journey’, an audio visual art installation composed of 38,000 suspended LED pendants that stretch 700ft down the terminal’s ceiling.
Beyond being a visual spectacle, the art installation also serves a functional purpose: to open up the terminal space, provide a sense of place, and guide passengers from the main hall to their gates.
“You see a silhouette swim all the way down the terminal,” explains Jon Graves, senior marketing manager for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. “It’s slow, it’s methodical, and puts your mind at ease. It’s a great example of using art and video to ease the customer experience.”
Tim Dixon, innovation and commercial director for ADXBA Limited, the firm that handled London Gatwick’s subliminal wayfinding, notes: “There are lots of international people arriving at airports, so you try to iconise and simplify things with graphics.
“Through subliminal wayfinding, it doesn’t matter your nationality; it’s a universal language. People that speak only Chinese, English, or German or French will all still naturally follow a route via the subliminal wayfinding.”
These uses of audio visual technology deliver immense value to airports, helping passengers reach their destinations while providing useful and engaging information.
A constant conversation
Customer experience can be difficult to define, but easy to recognise when it’s less than good, and truly understanding the frustrations passengers face requires a two-way dialogue.
“We say apathy is actually our worst enemy,” says Andy Merkin, producer for Moment Factory. “We would rather have somebody hate something, because then they feel an emotion. It is about engaging customers and listening to them, it’s a constant conversation that you’re having with your passengers.”
Whether it’s a massive video wall with content that amazes and amuses weary travellers; a clear, informative LED display with an engaging and targeted advertising message for a nearby coffee shop; or a new audio technology that delivers soothing and easy-to-understand instructions, AV technology is delivering value to both passengers and airports alike by reducing stress, increasing tranquility, and providing the opportunity for new streams of revenue.