According to our Airport Experience survey, the answer seems to be the latter, with the majority of travellers (53%) reporting that they enjoy the time they spend in airports, writes Priority Pass' Stephen Simpson.
Perceptions of airports are changing for the better, thanks to a renewed focus on customer experience. From retail expansion, to entertainment, sports, and opportunities to relax and reconnect with nature, terminals across the world are transforming to appeal to travellers and become destinations in their own right.
A life of luxury – the rise of high-end retail
The increase of retail outlets throughout airports nowadays has been a major factor in changing travellers’ perceptions.
Airport retail has grown at a consistent rate of around 12% a year since 2009, and ACI has revealed that retail revenues in airports across the continent now account for 18% of airports’ total revenue.
That’s a significant sum when you consider the value of airline-based revenues – often in the billions of dollars. The new breed of airports offer an array of luxury stores, such as Heathrow’s Terminal 5 which boasts over 20 fashion and luxury brands, including brands like Harrods and Louis Vuitton.
Such additions have been well received, creating a sense of extravagance to the airport visit. And travellers are taking full advantage, with more than a third (35%) looking to purchase high-end luxury items in an airport that they wouldn’t usually buy in their day-to-day lives.
In this way, an enhanced retail offering adds to this changing perception of airports.
A bargain hunter’s heaven
But it’s not all about high-end luxury. Our research also revealed that two-thirds (64%) of travellers look to pick up a bargain at the airport.
Whether duty free or otherwise, 56% of airport shoppers actually look to arrive early to take advantage of discounts. Interestingly, 46% say they would spend more if they received these offers ahead of time.
In fact, almost half of frequent business flyers (49%) and frequent leisure travellers (42%) say that a good choice of retail opportunities is an important or very important factor when choosing which airport to fly from.
This reflects a wider design trend at global airports, as they look to become more consumer-friendly, and move from a transient space of necessity, towards a destination that people actually enjoy.
Plenty to see, plenty to do
The customer-friendly elements of an airport don’t stop at the shops – modern-day travellers have a growing choice of entertainment to choose from. In particular, airports across Asia are leading the way, creating new, engaging and interactive experiences.
Hong Kong International Airport’s visitors can enjoy the largest IMAX screen in the region, as well as a high-tech golfing simulator endorsed by the Women’s PGA tour. Fly North-East to Seoul-Incheon, and you can even enjoy a 330-yard driving range.
All age groups are catered for, from free-to-use games consoles at Singapore’s Changi Airport to free museum exhibitions in Athens International Airport - entertainment and leisure facilities are rapidly becoming a staple of the airport of the future.
An indoor oasis
Airports today are busier than ever before with IATA reporting further passenger growth of 6.5% in 2015. While there’s plenty to entertain travellers, sometimes they just want to escape the hustle and bustle of the main concourse.
The indoor oases come in many forms: from the ‘natural’ spaces with koi ponds, lily and butterfly gardens in Singapore Changi, to the aquariums of Vancouver, or the Zen Gardens of Dubai International Airport.
Beyond that, luxury airport lounges and spas are becoming an airport fixture, for example the Aspire Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 5. These are becoming increasingly popular spaces to relax away from the crowds.
Our research shows that 4 in 10 travellers would arrive at an airport ahead of time in order to take advantage of these benefits, a figure that rises to nearly 5 in 10 (48%) for business travellers.
These spaces, and the sanctuary they provide, have played a vital role in transforming traveller perceptions of airports, for both leisure and business travellers, enforcing the idea that the experience can start before you board the plane.
Looking forward, catering to the needs of consumers will remain a focus for airport designers.
On top of the diverse range of luxury and bargain retail opportunities already offered, travellers are beginning to expect airports to deliver entertainment and relaxation in abundance.
It’s certainly a challenge – but continuing to meet these needs will mean that airports will increasingly be seen as destinations in their own right.
• Stephen Simpson is global marketing director with Priority Pass