Airports Embracing the Experience Economy Concept

The following is an excerpt from an article by Lark Gould in Business Traveler

“Airport planners may have learned a thing or two from the hospitality industry in recent years and are busy making airports into places that can edify, satisfy and detoxify while passengers wait for a flight. Airports such as Schiphol, Dubai, Changi, Narita and Incheon have had these concepts going for many years but as other ports catch up, new wows must take over. 

Schiphol in Amsterdam was possibly the first airport to offer affordable half-day onsite hotels to transit passengers in the 1980s as it developed to become, by its own definition, an airport city. 

While there is plenty of local shopping and dining to be found, passengers also get to cash in on cultural attractions and entertainment. The Rijksmuseum displays works from famous Dutch masters. For literary travelers Schiphol opened the world’s first airport library. There is also gaming (at the Holland Casino), relaxation at an airport spa and nature-ish walks to be taken in a real park within the complex.

The airport continues to be a bellwether in the tides of flow and navigation as well. As one of Europe’s airports looking at airport collaborative decision-making (ACDM) tools, Schiphol travelers may soon be able to make the curbside-to-boarding gate dash – including security – in only 45 minutes. 

“Airports are a reflection of their community and you see airports really embracing this,” says Angela Gittens, director general of Airports Council International based in Montreal. “Incheon works with the Korean Cultural Institute and offers all sorts of programs. Changi in Singapore is well known for a whole series of passenger items – a movie theater, a butterfly garden, special children’s areas – all really memorable. We used to feel it was a success if your flight was uneventful. Now it’s about delighting passengers. Designers are finding ways to install wonder and make travelers feel like being a kid again.”

Dubai International Airport might have been the first to truly cast the whole airport waiting experience into a luxury pursuit. It has a chic hotel in the center of the complex, an indoor park, several spas, nicely priced designer boutiques and an endless souk where one can buy 24-kt gold by the ounce – or brick. 

Domestically, San Francisco is stepping up its airport experience with a buffet of unexpected amenities and, of course, leading edge technology. 

The redevelopment of Terminal 2 in 2011 sought to set a new standard for the guest experience. For starters, it has a “recompose” area, located just past security, where travelers can re-dress and gather their belongings. The terminal has a yoga room and also offers, from time to time, scheduled classes and seminars. Spas, too, have their place at SFO with XpresSpas now in several terminals. 

“How many times do we get to the airport and realize we have forgotten to take care of our nails?” asks Gittens. “Or we never made it to that shop we were supposed to go to in the city, or we really need to de-stress now that we have arrived at the airport – and it is all right there to accommodate us. Who would have imagined even looking for a spa at an airport ten years ago?” 

There was a time when airports were either connecting points for onward travel or gateways to cities. Today they can be a bit of both – springboards to international adventures. Countries are finding ways to tap into the enormous through traffic airports generate by opening up their borders to visitors. 

One such notable is China, where at the beginning of 2013, Beijing and Shanghai began allowing 72 hour visa free visits. By August Guangzhou had been added to the list, and as of this writing, eight more Chinese cities currently offering 72 hour visa free transit: Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Shenyang, Xian, Guilin, Kunming and Hangzhou.

Let’s say you are a US citizen flying from San Francisco to Baiyun International in Guangzhou and onward from there to Frankfurt. With a little judicious booking, you can spread your time in Guangzhou out for 3 days to take in the sights, and experience the local culture – all without the expensive and time-consuming process of obtaining a visa. 

As barriers tumble and these travel-experience nodes continue to grow, what will the typical international airport of the future look like?

“The word is ‘seamless,’ ” says Doug Yakel, public information officer at SFO. “In the future, the passenger will experience a seamless flow through the airport. The human scale will provide a more thoughtful, hospitality-oriented environment. Time and choice will be given back to the passenger with multiple self-service options and an increase in amenities. And a net-zero energy facility is not outside the realm of possibility.”


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