There are three pivotal pillars to a successful program. These pillars are the foundational aspects of our thought leadership.

The three pillars are:

  • Sense of Place
  • A Sense of Engagement
  • A WOW!

A roadmap is built on a multi-faceted plan to make a successful program. You can learn from other transit hubs like international cruise terminals, ferry ports and train stations or resorts or onboard cruise ships. The roadmap helps you to itemise the ideas to ensure you have covered them all.  

But before you start, you need to be a LOUD voice at the planning table!  Don’t be left out.  Ensure the commercial area is a part of the experience, not an after-thought.

Let’s talk about how to create the three pillars and what they truly mean.

Pillar 1 – A Sense of Place.

“You need to develop a Sense of Place.”  Everyone has heard those words before, but few know how to achieve them.

A sense of place is not created by one single idea or action. Think about walking down the most iconic street in your hometown.  All eateries and stores originating from your hometown will help, but there’s typically a mix of international and local brands.  A combination will increase customer satisfaction, generating more sales. There is something for everyone. Some passengers want to see and experience new eateries, new specialty stores and new entertainment. Others like the safety of a known brand – some like international brands, some like artisans.

But it’s not JUST about the stores and restaurants.  A sense of place combines local architecture, local experiences, local food, souvenirs and local culture through art and music.  It’s a combination of your senses coming together in your surroundings.

The terminal could have visual art displays representative of the city’s art scene accompanied by local food and retail offers.  While new and modern uses of steel and glass can be found in many terminals, they may lack unique character.  Many elements for which cities are known, such as the historical and modern architecture depicting history and local neighborhoods, local music, local natural foliage, and the colors that are prominent in your town, supplemented with water features and/or lighting provide an opportunity to further define a “sense of place”.  When people are inspired by their surroundings, and are enjoying themselves in a stress-free environment, they tend to spend more.  It is important to recognize that a sense of place is not simply achieved by inserting local offers in restaurants and shops, but is achieved by framing elements that together define the location you are in.

This picture of Venice gives you a sense of being in Venice. Yet, you are in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. 

The shops and restaurants need to provide the customer with what they want or need, not just to depict the home city.  That’s why it is best to supplement the “feel or character of the place” with local flavours and international brands.  You can create the character by creating the sense of place through base building attributes like characteristic wood or stone pillars, coloured or symbolic floor surfaces or painted, panelled or muraled walls.  These characteristics should be present in and outside of the shops, restaurants and services.

The painted mural of the city you are arriving in gives you excitement to think about and anticipate while waiting for your baggage.  You begin to dream about how you will enjoy your first visit to the city or the comfort of coming home.

Remember, it’s not just about the departure experience.  Yes, you want people to remember their time in your city, but you also want to woo them on arrival.

The Second Pillar is Engagement.

Engaging with your customers makes them feel good, important, and likely comfortable. It’s all about talking with someone who can either help or provide you with a service that makes you feel good inside. 

Enjoying technological solutions that make your experience that much easier and entertaining.  An example of this is the Rebecca Minkoff store, a high-end clothing designer in New York.  She offers the opportunity to see what the outfit will look like on you without taking a stitch of clothing off.

The business traveller who goes into the electronic store and is recommended to purchase a new tool that will help her accomplish more with her daily office routine will save valuable time.

While the mother and father with three rambunctious six-year-old children will enjoy the McDonald’s and play area to occupy the kids and make their trip less stressful.

The sounds of music or rushing water will help take the stress out of the traveller who doesn’t like flying or has had an awful morning.  This experience will be appreciated and remembered.

A fellow business traveller who meets an excellent network contact while enjoying a glass of local wine in a wine bar makes that time spent at your airport pleasant and creates a memory.

An airport information clerk or a shop clerk or waiter can also change a typically benign airport just to get me from this place to where I need to go as quickly as possible to and enjoyable encounter that is remembered and talked about with friends or business associates years to come.   

If a traveller receives service far beyond their expectations, it creates a memory and is likely shared with others through the years.  This type of service usually results in loyalty.  Loyalty to fly through your airport or visit your store.  The traveller likely wants to be blessed with the same service and to share with others as an affirmation.

The Third Pillar is THE WOW!

The memory of THE WOW can be present in the check-in areas, the Immigration Zones, but don’t forget, it needs to be present in the Commercial Zone to create a financial return.

This is the area that will give you the most significant payback.  If you develop the memories in this zone, you will likely generate more sales resulting in more rent.  The more rent the airport makes translates into more sales and profit for concession operators and higher customer satisfaction for the passenger.  The more all business partners make, the more each can spend to continually update the environment so that there is always something new to experience and remember.  

THE WOW is sometimes a store that you haven’t seen anywhere else like Amazon Go, a new retail concept in the U.S. where you enter the store, pick up what you want, and the item is automatically charged to your credit card through your app, without the need to scan and pay.  It’s quick, easy and takes no time…frankly, it’s likely a memorable experience.  

Or it’s entertainment that made you de-stress and enjoy yourself or an unexpected experience with someone you met for the very first time.

The great experience may also be the new restaurant that serves you a great meal or the new retail store with just what you need for a gift.  

All of these result in forming a memory that sticks with the passenger and is shared with likely 6 or 7 other future travelers, who will want to travel through the airport.

The memory is also a WOW.  Wow’s can be created through elaborate architectural elements like the beautiful Jewel Water Zone in Singapore Changi Airport.

But they also can be achieved through excellent customer service, where an employee makes the voyage easier, and makes one feel better than they did before the encounter.  

When your child gets their face painted and they feel so good.  This is an unexpected experience that brings pleasure, both to the child and the parent who naturally loves to see their child smiling.

The key is to keep creating those memories and WOWS.

To secure endorsement, just check out customer satisfaction results for airports and shops that deliver a sense of place, you will see that the sense of place and enjoyment usually results in the highest revenue to both the airport and the concession operator.  The top airports and shops in the world all provide a memorable experience.  

So, keep creating those memories and WOWS.

In the wise words of Albert Einstein, it’s a reminder to us, that we cannot stand still and be complacent.  An airport’s commercial program must be unique to engage customers and the program must continue to evolve.  Just when you think the program is complete, another airport or concession operator is doing something different.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” 

– Albert Einstein

So, keep pedaling!

Who knows what shops and airports will come up with next, but we are sure that the outcome will be memorable and continually evolving!