For many airports, retail represents a key revenue stream. Indeed, it is posssibly the one aspect of our industry that has changed the most in the past 20 years with many new terminals resemblling high-end shopping malls.
But how important is the airport retail and food and beverage (F&B) offer to a passenger’s overall satisfaction with an airport? Here are some insights from analysis of the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Survey results in 2009.
The ASQ Survey has been run by ACI since 2006. It captures the feedback from passengers about their experience, at that airport, on the day of travel. During the course of 2009, more than 275,000 passengers were surveyed at nearly 150 airports worldwide.
A survey questionnaire was completed by the passenger (at the boarding gate), who was asked to rate 34 different aspects of the passenger experience, on a scale of one to five. It covered the end-to-end travel departure process from transportation to the airport, through check-in, security, border clearance, up to the boarding gate.
The passenger rates the different facilities provided, their cleanliness, comfort and ease of use. They are also asked to score the courtesy and helpfulness of airport, airline and security staff.
And the survey concludes by asking the passenger to give a rating for ‘Overall satisfaction with the airport’, which is used amongst other things to determine the annual airport rankings and ASQ awardees.
Four questions relate specifically to the retail and F&B experience. Of the 10 airports with the highest satisfaction scores for ‘Shopping Facilities’, four were in Asia-Pacific, two in the the Middle East, and one each in North America, Europe, the Carribean and Latin America.
In contrast, the top 10 ranked airports for ‘Restaurant Facilities’, four were in Asia-Pacific, four in North America and two in Latin America. The satisfaction scores for ‘Shopping’ at these airports were on average 6% higher than their scores for
‘Restaurants’, suggesting that it is more difficult to satisfy passengers’ eating expectations.
It is perhaps no surprise that the top three airports in both categories also feature in the top 10 ranked airports for ‘Overall Satisfaction with the airport’. However, if you list in order the scores for all of the 34 service elements at these airports,
‘shopping’ and ‘restaurants’ appear quite low down on the list.
These airports have found that there is not a strong correlation between a passenger’s satisfaction with shopping and restaurants in the airport and their overall satisfaction with the airport.
In other words, these two elements are not satisfaction ‘drivers’. These airports have found that to drive passenger satisfaction, you have to get the ‘basics’ right. They prioritise the cleanliness of the terminal and washrooms; the availability of
washrooms; improvements to the overall ambience; the courtesy of check-in staff and other airport staff; and, wayfinding.
They also ensure the efficiency of their processes, particularly check-in, passport control and security screening.
These are the essential service elements that all passengers experience and view as important in an airport. Get these right and the airport should see the return on its investment in its other service areas, both in terms of passenger satisfaction and financial performance.
This is logical, isn’t it? A relaxed passenger is more inclined to shop and explore the food and beverage selection on offer. If the passenger has been stuck in queues at check-in or security, then he or she is likely to have less time to shop anyway and and may be more concerned about getting to the boarding gate on time than visiting the shops.
The ASQ Survey also asks passengers for their satisfaction with the value for money of both their shopping and eating experience at the airport. This also provides some interesting insights.
The value for money scores for shopping of the top 10 airports were noticeably lower than the levels of satisfaction with the retail offer. The variance averaged 15% lower. This indicates that although passengers may be satisfied with the retail offer, they feel that prices are higher than they would like.
But then, who wouldn’t like cheaper prices? Does it deter spending or influence the passenger’s overall satisfaction with the airport? Analysis of the data indicates suggests no.
A similar result can be seen with ‘restaurants’ but the variance between satisfaction and value for money is smaller. Passengers at the top 10 airports in this category rated value for
money lower, by an average of 12%. This suggests that these airports are pricing their food and beverage offerings closer to market expectation or are perceived to be providing better value for money.
These airports provide a range of eating options for every budget and, importantly, they also provide options according to how much time the passengers has to spend. So, in Asia for example, the leading airports provide a choice of Western or Asian cuisines, both with fast food and fine dining options.
The analysis identifies a number of other key success factors for both retail and overall satisfaction. The shops and restaurants need to be conveniently located, in the passenger flow through the terminal. They need to be clearly visible. They need to be passenger friendly, so that passengers with trolley bags can move easily through the shop or restaurant and keep their things with them.
Signage to the boarding gates and walking times should also be clearly visible so that the passenger knows how much time he still has to shop or eat. Providing comfortable seating in and around the retail area and airside trolleys will also be appreciated by the passenger.
Airports should also be careful to maintain adequate circulation space. Some airports might be tempted to place additional retail points in the passenger circulation area. While this may increase revenue, it will likely drag down passenger
satisfaction. The clear lines of sight in the concourse that are so important for passenger wayfinding can become lost in a ‘jungle’ of advertising and retail signage.
The retail activities can obstruct the free flow of passengers, making the area seem crowded. Passengers may become anxious both about their personal safety and their ability to get to the boarding gate on time. And these basic concerns have a much bigger influence on a passenger’s overall satisfaction with an airport.
When I see this happening in an airport, it suggests to me that there was no commercial master plan developed during the terminal design stage.
Commercial operations have to be designed into the terminal from the outset and not added later. These outlets have special requirements for delivery, storage and waste removal.
And if these needs are not met, passengers will invariably end up sharing the concourse with staff pushing pallets of goods or bins of rubbish. This, too, will surely drag down the satisfaction scores.
So, to enjoy high marks from passengers, airports need to ensure that they get the basics right. Retail activities should complement the terminal’s facilitation process and enhance the passenger experience, not conflict with it.