Sanjay Nagi, founder and principal consultant at Market Insight Consultants, shares his thoughts on the evolution towards ‘happy pax airports’ and recounts the company’s experiences in working with the airport community

Over the past eight years, we have been serving and working with the aviation industry globally, which has made the developments and the shape of things to come very clear, particularly in terms of passenger experience – or ‘pax’. I am pleased to share Market Insight Consultants’ perspective on this evolution towards what we call ‘happy pax airports’.

Passenger profiling and segmentation

There are, of course, many airports that still have the concept of treating the passenger experience as a faceless whole. But the vast majority are now investing resources into detailed passenger profiling to, firstly, understand who is on the end of their passenger experience, and secondly, to identify and segment them into clusters based on their demographic profiles.

In fact, some airports are now using psychographic profiling and buyer-behaviour-based profiling as a segmentation criterion. This passenger profiling adds teeth to the overall service offering of the airport, and enables a segmented delivery that is closer to the needs and expectations of its passengers.

In some airports we have been involved with, we were able to use this segmentation to create an entirely new set of menus and offerings that led to a better passenger experience and also contributed to airport revenue. We expect to see more airports realising the need for such investments in understanding passenger experience profiles in diverse manners.

Passenger service as a source of competitive advantage

The time from passenger experience service being considered an ‘unnecessary cost’ to the current context of it being a source of revenue and sustainable advantage has been a very interesting evolution.

Spurred by the Airport Council International’s Airport Service Quality and Skytrax ratings, hundreds of airports worldwide are measuring their airport service quality, and many of these are very seriously undertaking quality initiatives to improve their ratings. While doing so, they are also realising the advantages of a happier passenger experience.

Service quality initiatives are not being restricted to basic airport efficiency alone, which itself is slowly becoming a basic factor that does not offer much differentiation. Instead, airports are looking at a host of non-basic factors in their quest for better passenger experience service. I believe the concept of happy pax airports will happen sooner rather than later.

Service quality improvement through mystery shopping and concessionaire involvement

In the past, airports were concerned only about rents from concessionaires, and the concession zones were seemingly not an airport concern area. This has evolved well, and airports are engaging with concessionaires to understand their needs and expectations, and then working with them to improve these interfaces.

Today, they are concerned about revenue impacts from the concessionaire point of view. We see this as a very interesting evolution of working with stakeholders, and surely more airports are doing this not only from a revenue point of view but also to work towards a happy pax airport concept.

Aside from concessionaire satisfaction, we see more frequent use of mystery shopping tools to get better insight into actual passenger experience and a faster flow of change at, say, a retail shop or a food counter. We are using new tactics in mystery shopping closer to customer experience management tools to bring in this sustainable change.

Innovation through design of experiments

For decades, airports have tended to stay fixed in terms of space use, service offering and so on, with very little changing from day to day. While this does give the frequent traveller the comfort and assurance of knowing their way around, it erodes the possibility of the airport innovating to develop what could possibly be a happier passenger experience than that provided just by the comfort of the familiar.

Innovation has to begin with change – and in many cases a planned change. In an airport we are currently working with, we are designing experiments around segments of passengers to create zones in the airport that appeal more significantly to one segment rather than another.

These are zones that cater to the needs of that individual segment, and act as a draw with a constantly evolving service and product offering that improves the pax and leads to a happy spend, resulting in a win-win situation for the pax and the airport.