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BLOGS Last modified on March 19, 2015

Blog: The passenger experience and the bottom line

As non-aeronautical revenues rise ever higher up the airport agenda, understanding what motivates passengers to spend and how to further influence that behaviour is becoming more and more essential to the commercially successful airport, writes Mignon Buckingham.

But before an airport can fully appreciate how to drive passenger spend, it must develop a detailed understanding of those passengers and their experience at the airport.

We’re certain that there there is a huge potential to increase retail and food and beverage spend at an airport. The key is understanding the individual passenger and their needs.

ICLP commissioned a study from research body ResearchNow, to find out more about what passengers thought about their airport experience travelling habits.

The good the bad and the ugly

Understanding how passengers feel about the their visit and the elements that either please or irritate them will be beneficial when it comes to developing a relationship based on a detailed understanding of their needs to drive engagement and loyalty.

Our survey found that 37% of passengers believed the airport experience was better than five years ago, while 15% thought standards had fallen.

It would appear therefore that a substantial percentage of travellers think the airport experience is neither better nor worse, meaning there is a great opportunity for airports to understand and better meet passenger needs.

One of the main bugbears was queuing and over two thirds of passengers cited security queues and over half having to queue for longer at check-in as major annoyances.

Again this has important implications for the airport hoping to foster loyalty. As we know that a large number of passengers find queuing unpleasant, by offering regular flyers fast-track options, we can be confident that we are giving this important group something that really is of value.

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This could also provide a revenue opportunity as those who do not have access to this benefit even if they are a member of a frequent flyer programme might be prepared to pay for the option.

Whilst limited Wi-Fi was only cited as a frustration for 19%, with the increasing adoption of smartphones and the ‘always on’ consumer, this could present a future opportunity.

A well designed initiative encouraging passengers to share data in return for enhanced internet access could not only provide a revenue stream, but would also enable airports to gain a greater understanding of their customers.

Over-priced food and drink was an irritation to two thirds. Again this points towards an opportunity for airports to offer additional services or value to encourage footfall and purchases.

Here discount promotions, and, or pre-bookings could prove opportune, so long as they can be tracked and evaluated.

Familiar faces

With many factors influencing the propensity to spend, the research reinforced the importance of identifying key variables such as the characteristics of a trip as well as the preferences and interests of individual passengers so airports can better understand a passenger’s current and likely future behaviour.

Passengers categorised as ‘regular flyers’ (i.e. those who travel more than five times a year) are clearly of enormous potential value to airports, although their number is often relatively small.

The study, which questioned just over a thousand European travellers, found that just 7% of passengers travelled nine times and more in the past year, while 14% had travelled between five and eight times. However a substantial third of those questioned had only flown once.

Frequent flyers clearly represent an important group when it comes to developing meaningful relationships with customers. It is however important for airports to develop an on-going relationship with all their passenger groups by understanding and segmenting them.


This will enable them to evaluate the best relationship strategy to adopt to align them with their commercial goals. For frequent flyers, collecting points might be a good motivator, but this is not going to work for less frequent travellers who are never going to build up enough points to redeem them for anything of value. We need to motivate those less frequent travellers in a different way.

Airports could potentially have a wealth of useful data at their fingertips if they consolidate the information they have and look at customers holistically as individuals, rather than simply a ‘car park customer’ or a ‘duty free shopper’.

Airports need to work out ways passengers can be encouraged to identify themselves so that they can learn about each passenger’s behaviours and preferences, beyond their immediate travel plans.

With millions of passengers interacting with airports prior to, during, and after their journey, the immediate requirement is for airports to find the best ways to acquire passenger data and secure permission to leverage those details to design an appropriate relationship and communications strategy, increase spending and as a consequence stimulate significant increases in non-aeronautical revenues.

• Over 1,000 respondents from France, Italy, Germany and Spain were questioned for the ICLP Airport Experience survey, involved, which was supplemented by a further study of over 600 Priority Pass members from 28 countries.

Mignon Buckingham – Managing Director - ICLP



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