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What Makes A Successful Airport Environment?
Category: Airport Environments | 04/01/2007 - 11:50:56
With increased passenger concern over security and long queues at each stage of the process, air travel is becoming increasingly painful and frustrating.
The airport as a gateway, however, does still hold true. There is the opportunity to capitalise on this again and once more make air travel a memorable experience.
The essence of creating this memorable experience can be encapsulated in four key factors. Each is hugely influential in arriving at the successful airport environment.
Architecture plays a significant role in creating an identity for a location; a symbiotic relationship with the character of the place. The Guggenheim Museum, for example, created a new identity for Bilbao, a previously grimy industrial town in northern Spain and redefined the city as a cool centre of culture. Airports are gateways - they are often the first and last impression a visitor has of a country. As such they offer a unique opportunity to both reflect and create the identity of that place.
Airports, however, have to ensure that they balance the unique identity with the need to create a safe and reassuring experience for passengers. There are several airports that do this successfully. REID architecture's new terminal at Farnborough Airport has created a striking new symbol both for the airport and town, which aims to become the premier business aviation centre in Europe. The award-winning new Terminal 2 in Madrid creates a dramatic architectural envelope, which lifts the spirit with its space and colour and makes a strong statement about the character and aspirations of Madrid.
The view from Farnborough's new terminal creates a 'theatre of aviation'
In Zurich, daylight plays an important role in forming a successful place. Natural light floods into the terminal building, creating a light and airy space that has a character and identity of its own whilst feeling distinctly 'Swiss'. And in Copenhagen, the sculptures in the arrivals hall seem to be as regularly photographed as the famous Little Mermaid statue in the harbour.
Daylight plays an important role at Zurich Airport
Photograph by thecolourblue
Giving an airport terminal an identity that is rooted in the character of its location and people and designing high quality architectural envelopes can create a cultural authenticity, which is unique. BAA, for example, undertakes character studies on all of its airports. This is an analysis of the characteristics and qualities of the city location and its people and culture and forms an integral part of the design process. The aim is to capture the essence of the area.
Retail environments may be expanding at many airports but I don't believe this to be improving the shopping experience and for many it has been to its detriment.
It is fundamental to extend beyond the predictable basics of traditional airport shopping to encourage vibrant, changeable diversity. But it is also important to encourage the traditional retailers to be more ambitious with their offer. Today's premium shopping is all about products which enhance lifestyle.
Famous markets around the globe rely on display, showmanship, variety, sounds and smells to make them attractive. I appreciate the appeal and benefits of ubiquitous brands like Boss and Armani but I would like us to learn from the traditional market and consider a greater variety of retailers and display methods. At REID architecture we have developed an approach we call Flexible Retailing, which takes its reference from the marketplace.
Airports can learn from traditional markets
Flexible Retailing supplements traditional retail units and makes space available for retailers to take limited space pitches. This can take the form of large kiosks or concession stands or display counters or barrows. These can be rented for a week, a month or a season and so on.
It promises a much greater variety of offer. It could be, for example, a local fashion designer who trades traditional garments or a local specialist food producer etc. This provides the opportunity for the airport retail manager to introduce much greater flexibility. The offer can be tailored to the season or to the passenger profile or even to coordinate with a local event. It can also bring an immediacy to the shopping - "a planned spontaneity." Shoppers will realise that if they don't buy the product when they see it, they may not get the opportunity again.
This cult of immediacy and exclusivity is being used in the new 'Pop-up' or 'Guerrilla' retailing phenomenon. The success of 'Pop-up' retailing is based on advance promotion via the internet or local television stations and newspapers, which identifies where and when an exclusive cult retailer will appear in quite simply a pop-up shop or van. These retailers generate a real buzz. They often sell out their high value designer goods in days or hours and then move on to the next opportunity. The excitement of this trend can be harnessed in airports. Of course this flexible approach requires more attention and consideration from the management team but it creates a real point of difference in an otherwise 'Clonetown' environment.
Although retail generally contributes the lion's share of income for airport operators there are other areas that they could and perhaps should consider to maximise the potential to sell added value services to the customer. This requires both identifying the notion of commodity, 'what do people want?', and understanding the potential of the space.
The increased security measures have meant passengers being encouraged to arrive earlier and earlier at the airport for their flight. Although this is predominantly to allow a more thorough search and profiling process, inevitably many passengers are going to find themselves hanging around for longer periods. In addition, passengers who are transferring flights often have to spend a significant amount of time in the terminal. Many airports already have a wide range of added value services like hotels, well-being centres, internet cafes etc but where else can they go?
The starting point is understanding and identifying that notion of commodity. In the past this has meant providing a wide range of shopping and catering facilities, providing desirable goods and services. Increasingly however airports must redefine this definition. Activity, communication, information, comfort silence and even 'pure' air can be understood as desirable and as such as commercial opportunity.
Activities could range from the more strenuous, such as climbing walls, to the more subtle such as 'Tryvertising'. Tryvertising encourages people to directly engage with a product by trying it out in a unpressured , informal way. Apple are world leaders in promoting 'Tryvertising'. Their spectacular flagship showrooms in London and New York provide a wonderful brand experience, which could fit well into the airport environment, catering for all ages.
Apple's store in London is an example of 'Tryvertising'
For those of us who want to escape the bustle and pandemonium, Nokia have created 'Silence Booths' to enable mobile phone users to make calls in quiet surroundings. While at Denver Airport, a city with a reputation for some of the best air quality on the planet, a roaring trade is done selling passengers shots of pure oxygen.
A number of banks have also investigated branding opportunities at airports. HSBC provide free taxi transfers from the airport to the city exclusively for their customers and ING offers a free café, which includes financial information and advice to customers.
In Europe some airports are developing clinics attached to the airports with specific medical specialisms to attract foreign patients. Many airports have associated hotels but Japanese brand Yotel are providing in-terminal rooms like at London Heathrow, which are small, clean and well appointed, although windowless, which are available for short stays of a few hours. London Stansted airport has seen up to 3000 people sleeping in the terminal overnight. These are generally passengers from Eastern Europe travelling on low-cost carriers connecting to other destination. There is a great opportunity to sell budget sleeping accommodation to these customers.
There is more opportunity for terminal rooms
Consumers want more than good shops, however, they want experiential luxuries. We might not all be able to afford first class but we still want to be pampered and looked after. The design of the airport terminal needs to make passengers feel special. It needs to calm them, provide comfort for them after their stressful journeys to the airport and through check-in and security.
We are sociable animals and enjoy the activity of eating in pleasant surroundings, where we can see others doing the same. But there is great scope for variety here in price and service, from noodle bars, through pit-stop coffee bars to more sophisticated full-service dining. With the rise of low-cost no-frills air travel there is now a greater range of passengers in terms of socio-economic groupings and age range. Many of the short-haul flights no longer provide in-flight meals, so many passengers are prepared to spend money on good meals before flying.
Passengers are prepared to pay for better quality dining experiences
The planes themselves, I strongly believe, are special in themselves. They are what make airports unique from anywhere else. The great railways of the last century captivated and fascinated passengers by allowing them views of the impressive locomotives lined up ready for action. The Gare du Nord in Paris, for example, has a stellar line-up of TGV's and the Eurostar on display for its customers. It is important similarly to enable travellers a good view of the aircraft by providing appropriate glazing where possible. This opens up spaces, as well, improving their positive experience.
These spaces can be further enhanced by the use of light, sound and projected images to create varying moods. These can be modified to suit the time of day, a particular season, or the pace of the airport. In addition, projected images can also relay information or carry advertising.
Finally, there is the opportunity to use event management to entertain people. Disney has successfully used entertainment to manage crowds at their resorts for years. This could be achieved at airports in a variety of ways, from magicians performing tricks in the security queue to concerts or fashion shows in the lounges. Again, these can be tailored to a particular region or tied into specific events.
The purpose of giving passengers this distinctive experience of surprise and delight is to encourage them to spend and to come back again. The production of creative architectural spaces to house a varied and exciting retail offer with excellent customer service set within an enjoyable arena can assist in this goal. This is especially important now that passengers have more airport options to travel from. Let's rediscover the golden age of aviation, while confidently and innovatively looking to the future.