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RETAIL/F&B Last modified on February 23, 2018

The hospitality business

Plaza Premium Group’s Jonathan Song provides his thoughts on future innovation in global airport hospitality.

Over the past 40 years, global air travel has soared from 472 million passengers per annum in 1976 to 3.7 billion in 2016, and according to The World Bank, this number is forecasted to double to 7.2 billion by 2035.

The decrease of inflated-adjusted airfares, the rise of the middle class – especially in China and India over the past decades – and the emergence of fuel-efficient aircraft and low-cost carriers have all contributed to the growth.

The downside to all this growth, however, is that more passengers passing through the world’s airports than ever before is putting a strain on existing infrastructure, and gateways are having to be increasingly innovative in terms of their customer service offerings and airport hospitality to keep passengers happy.

Going forward, the continued adoption of new experience enhancing technology and taking a more holistic approach to hospitality seem to offer the best solutions for airports in terms of ensuring quick, seamless and enjoyable journeys through their facilities.

Airports are already becoming smarter by investing in emerging and maturing digital, biometric, and automated handling technologies ranging from facial recognition technology to cloud-based check-in systems.

Indeed, the newest technologies on the market have enabled airports to transcend the limitations of bricks-and-mortar and improve the airport experience of travellers.

Sooner or later, boarding passes and passports will take a backseat to be replaced entirely by digital and mobile applications.

Travellers have never been more ready to go digital and utilise self-service and user-friendly systems such as smart luggage tags; automated baggage drop; virtual and augmented reality solutions; and one-stop security checks; while Internet of Things (IoT) applications are expected to become prevalent at most major airports over the next decade.

Leading airports such as Hong Kong, London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and Singapore Changi are taking concrete steps to turn all of the above into reality.

Major airports in the future will also be more aware of and responsive to travelling trends, and be able to identify leads and formulate strategic plans by harnessing big data.

Current security requirements mean that passengers generally spend more time at airports today than ever before, and as a result, many airlines are starting to emphasise and focus on the customer-centric experience their passengers can expect on the ground.

This is good news for airports, as the strategy should help them in their efforts to stand out from the crowd, build passenger loyalty and subsequently boost their commercial revenues.

We believe that as passenger numbers grow, airports should work more closely with airport business service providers to ensure that the needs of all passengers are being met.

Done successfully this can result in delivering a tailored and superior airport experience for all, and ensure wise investment in future service models and solutions.

Air travel is now a way of life for many and increasingly a lifestyle choice for the younger generation, which means that premium airport hospitality will become essential across a growing number of airports.

Young travellers tend to see airports as destinations and allocate time there to go shopping and pursue unique experiences that are not available elsewhere.

This means that in addition to more traditional hospitality products, passengers increasingly want to see more diversified and sophisticated airport offerings and product lines such as independent lounges, transit hotels, sleeping pods, airside swimming pools, artificial intelligence, thematic facilities and recreational and interactive amenities.

With the continuous adoption of advanced technology and introduction of innovative offerings, the days of air travellers being stressed, confused or lost in airports will soon become history.

Airports are no longer just places people go to catch flights, they are destinations in their own right, and the services and hospitality levels that they provide will play a huge part in how successful they are in the future.

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