The experience for delegates arriving at this year’s MEADFA Conference via Muscat Airport was certainly a premium one. Just a year and a half after it opened, the airport was named the Middle East airport of the year, said Dr Khalfan Said Al Shueili of Oman Aviation Services and Chairman of Muscat Duty Free at this morning’s conference session. Sheikh Aimen Ahmed Al Hosni from Oman Airports Management, which has opened three airports in as many years, described it as his company’s ‘jewel’. And there’s more to providing a great experience than corporate pride – generally speaking, a 1% increase in customer satisfaction results in a 1.5% increase in non-aeronautical revenue, he said.
Aer Rianta International’s Ray Hernan would certainly agree that the passenger experience is paramount. The duty free and travel retail industry needs to stop merely talking about partnership and take action, he said. Partnership must mean genuine partnership, and customer-centricity must mean delivering in a way that really does please.
Food and beverage is, of course, a major element of the airport experience. According to Eugene Barry of Dubai Airports, standards at airport food outlets in the past left much to be desired. But things have changed. At airports that are taking F&B seriously, revenue from this channel is growing faster than passenger numbers. Good F&B can stop passengers in their tracks he said, and can trigger a willingness to spend more time and money at an airport, including in its shops. Concepts that blend food offers with retail, lifestyle and entertainment experiences, such as Dubai’s Hard Rock Café and Bottega bar, don’t just increase revenue, but can also be efficient when it comes to commercial yield per square metre.
Food has moved from a functional necessity to becoming a part of the travel experience, suggested Emirates Leisure Retail’s Andrew Day. He outlined three key trends that need to be integrated into the F&B offering – the importance of the experience, hyper-personalisation that allows customers an unprecedented level of choice, and social responsibility. If an airport gets the functional delivery right, and offers a great customer experience, it will result in a great commercial opportunity.