Bliss is fun and fun is nice, but at what price is bliss nice?

“… we’ve entered an era of “terminal bliss.” It’s a state of joy that comes from being in an airport that excites and caters to that all-important you … It may sound ridiculous, but it’s actually sound business. Airport operators, owners, and developers all over the world are realizing that people will indeed spend time–and good money–at an airport if you give them something to be blissful about.” Bill Hooper

Bill Hooper, a veteran of airport design, presents his vision of the future airport with aplomb in The Airport Of The Future Is Actually Fun To Be In. This airport of the future is a place where you no longer feel like an insignificant cog in the wheel of a large bureaucracy, but instead are blissfully delighted by a boutique and civilised experience custom designed specifically for you.

According to Hooper, this vision can be achieved if airports instigate (a) concierge like bag drop services, (b) introduce fast track services through security, and (c) provide the passenger with smartphone apps. In return for these airport infrastructure investments, the passenger will be swept up by feelings of “bliss” and therefore induced to spend more time and money at the airport.

Although there is inextricably a link between the provision of great experiences and increased profits, this link is based on an unwritten, and intimate, understanding of the target customer group. In Japanese, they refer to this notion as Kansei. In English we call it customer focussed design. In either case, the successful design of a customer “experience” requires an understanding of the minimal and authentic values of that end customer. The questions raised, therefore, are whether (a) specialised bag drop, faster passage though security and an airport app are reflective of the core values of the passenger, and (b) if they are, will satisfaction of these core values result in increased retail spending?

Based on the research I have been conducting at BNE, “Will I make my flight?” has emerged as the core passenger fear, making the reduction of the said fear a core passenger value. I have found that there are two major milestones in the reduction of this fear, namely bag-drop and clearing security/customs. It is not until the passenger completes all necessary airport formalities (check-in, security/ customs) that the passenger fear drops to an insignificant level, and the passenger is open to “engaging” the airport experience.

Thus, in order to capitalise on investments directed at the “passenger experience”, it follows that an airport should increase the speed at which the passenger completes the two milestones rather than focussing on the service that is provided during these initial phases.  This of course puts forward a stronger case for automation than boutique personalisation of the check-in, security and customs processes.

Regardless of which technique is adopted in the design of the terminal, the second and more pertinent question is whether passenger satisfaction is connected to an increase in retail spend, and underlying this, whether increased availability of time will result in increased retail spend.

The connection between passenger satisfaction and retail spend is both complex and inconclusive. Although mood certainly influences purchases, especially impulse purchases, there is no solid evidence to suggest that “blissful” passengers spend more time and/or money in airport retail environments. To the contrary, preliminary research indicates that airport purchases tend to be pre-planned, and impulse purchases are primarily influenced by the group dynamics, and not by the availability of time or the presence of a good passenger mood. Hooper’s suggestion that the 2010 ACI retail income figures are linked to theimprovements in retail expeience offerings is not clearly supported. It is possible that the increase in retail revenue is related to higher passenger traffic.

The second dimension related to passenger spending is the assumption that an increase in available passenger time will result in an increase in passenger spend. Again, there is no evidence to suggest a correlation between time and passenger retail spending. The explanation for this could be related to the discovery that not all passengers relate to their airport time in the same way. Contrary to common belief, my research indicates that only a small percentage of passengers (14%) are genuinely focussed on the speed with which they are processed through the airport. The majority of passengers (86%) have very loose thresholds for what they consider acceptable “levels of service” – as long as they complete check-in and bag drop in the first half of their allocated airport time, they have confidence that they “will make their flight” and are thus reasonably satisfied.

Returning to Hooper’s vision: will investment in personalising baggage drop and security result in happier passengers who spend more time and money at the airport? If the personalised services reduce the amount of time that it takes for passengers to complete all airport formalities (check-in, security/ customs) then the airport would have potential passengers who are ready to “engage” the airport experience. Of all these passengers, however, only about a third (32%) will be likely to convert the extra time into extra airport spend.

Sources: the results of the study quoted above will be presented in April at Passenger Terminal Expo, and published in detail later this year. Check back for a blog post early April for more on this topic.

3 thoughts on “Bliss is fun and fun is nice, but at what price is bliss nice?

  1. While all air travelers want to be taken care of in their journey through the airport like they would be at Disneyland or some other resort, the big question is at what point will the airports and their tenants (e.g., airlines) be willing to financially support the infrastructure and personnel necessary to accomplish this goal. The airlines have clearly abdicated their customer service responsibilities for most of their passengers in the name of profits (except those who pay premium airfares flying in business or first class) to the airports…but the airports have financial limits as to how much they can absorb in terms of supporting a heightened customer service function. Thus, future air travel, and the facilities supporting air travel, will likely be more spartan for the masses…and nicer for those flying business or first class. Hmmm…sounds like today’s society!

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