Are airports on the same wavelength as their passengers?

Recent research indicates there is plenty of room to improve

By: Joe Bates   •   email: joewbates@icloud.com

Do decision makers in the airport industry understand why passengers choose one airport over another? It’s a basic enough question after all. Yet, worryingly, a major survey based on interviews with nearly 2,600 passengers in January this year conducted by global loyalty firm ICLP at 35 airports worldwide suggests some airports simply haven’t a clue.

A high 97% of airports believe that proximity to travellers’ home or office underlies their choice of airport, according to ICLP’s data. In fact, only 66% of passengers cite geographical proximity as the prime reason for choosing a particular airport.

Nearly half of passengers say a good range of food and beverage (F&B) outlets influences their decision about which to airport to fly from. Yet airports consistently fail to rank a choice of F&B outlets as one of passengers’ top five priorities. Similarly, only 10% of airports think that passengers would welcome targeted retail and restaurant offers, but 60% of travellers would consider them an important factor in choosing an airport.

This alarming disparity between airports’ passenger deductions and the preferences of passengers is also prevalent in the loyalty category: 40% of passengers state they would be interested in being part of an airport loyalty or reward programme. In contrast, just 7% of airports recognise the importance of passenger loyalty schemes.

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Even more surprising is the revelation that only 41% of airports thought that efficient check in and security clearance were high on the list of influencing factors for travellers.
It transpires both issues are very important for 82% of passengers.

On one level, I find the stark disconnect between what airports think passengers want and what passengers actually want from an airport concerning. I thought the industry’s own regular in-house customer satisfaction surveys, the well-known ACI Airport Service Quality Programme, as well close monitoring of airports’ Facebook sites and twitter feeds were bringing the industry ever closer to the needs of the passenger.

However, the ICLP survey is not just a wake-up call, it’s also an opportunity. As Mignon Buckingham, managing director of ICLP says: “Understanding that passengers are not just motivated by purely practical factors, but also by things such as food and retail outlets, travel retail offers, and loyalty schemes, allows airports to increase the influence they have on customer behaviour. This means they can encourage passengers to turn their time at the airport into an experience, rather than just a part of the process of getting from A to B. They have then paved the way for genuine customer engagement, which in turn can drive a rise in revenue and repeat visits.”

Surely, that’s an insight the whole airport retail community can act on?

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