RESEARCH: Passengers in Middle East airports ‘are happier’

Passengers in Middle East airports are happier than their US and European counterparts and happier passengers spend more
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While it may not come as a surprise, happy travellers are more likely to spend their money at the airport.

But new research from Collinson has shown the extent to which a great kerbside experience means larger revenues for airport operators. And that is good news for airports in the UAE, where 75% of 500 travellers surveyed for this year’s ‘Airport Journey’ report said they enjoy the airport experience.

Collinson’s research reveals that airport satisfaction really does matter. Nearly nine-in-10 travellers (88%) who routinely spend over US$200 at the airport say the airport experience is an enjoyable part of the journey. On the other hand, the least satisfied travellers are also the ones who spend less than US$28, among whom only 40% say they enjoy the airport experience.

Mignon Buckingham, corporate strategy officer at Collinson, says: “We’re passionate about understanding what makes travellers tick, so we can support our partners in their efforts to enhance and innovate the airport experience for every traveller around the globe.

“It may seem unsurprising that happy customers spend more, but the devil is in the detail. The airport experience is fragmented and relies on an ecosystem of players, including airlines, airport authorities, security and operational service providers, merchants, duty-free, retailers, bars and restaurants. Dissatisfaction at any point of the airport journey can trigger a loss in overall satisfaction and have a knock-on impact for all other players.”

The UAE has three airlines with global reach – Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Air Arabia – and the country continues to spend heavily on the expansion and improvement of its airport infrastructure.

Current investments include US$8bn in developing Al Maktoum International Airport, US$7.6bn in the phase four expansion of Dubai International Airport, US$6.8bn for the re-development of Abu Dhabi International Airport, and US$400m for the further expansion of Sharjah International Airport’s passenger operations.

Sanjit Gill, general manager, Middle East, at Collinson, says: “Although its infrastructure is only one piece of the much larger airport eco-system, it can be no coincidence that airport satisfaction levels are so high in the United Arab Emirates. If you invest in modern, state-of-the-art aviation infrastructure, this lays the foundation for superior retail and F&B outlets.”

More than 41.27 million people travelled through Dubai International Airport in the first half of 2019 and more than 12 million used Sharjah International Airport during calendar year 2018.

Next year, the hosting of Expo 2020 in Dubai is expected to boost already high UAE passenger numbers by a further 25 million. UAE General Civil Aviation Authority expects capacity of 118 million passengers annually by 2023 at Dubai International Airport, and annual capacity of 120 million passengers at Dubai World Central on completion of development phase two.

For its 2019 report, Collinson surveyed 6,667 people across 11 countries in the Americas, EMEA, and APAC to track evolving traveller preferences and behaviours, and learn more about travellers’ satisfaction with the airport experience.

Collinson’s research found that overall, traveller satisfaction with the airport experience is on the rise. In 2019, 63% of global travellers say they enjoy the airport experience, a jump of 13 percentage points from 2018 when only 50% of travellers said the same.

However, there is a significant gulf between traveller satisfaction in Asia and the Middle East, compared to the US and Europe. On average, three in four travellers (74%) across markets like India, China and the UAE enjoy the airport experience, compared to less than half (48%) across markets like the US, the UK and Germany.

Buckingham says: “The staggering differences in satisfaction rates in Asia and the Middle East compared to Europe and the US point to a variety of conclusions. Asia and the Middle East are leading international tourism growth, with arrival numbers growing by 6% and 8% from January to June 2019, respectively.

“This boom in tourism arrivals and the regions’ growing middle class are major motivations for the development of new airports and the evolution of existing ones. Without the long-standing legacy infrastructure that other regions must contend with, airports in Asia and the Middle East can build ultra-modern facilities, cherry-pick best-of-breed features, and keep the customer experience absolutely central to it all. These are no doubt contributing factors to travellers’ strong enjoyment of the airport experience in these regions.”

Asia Pacific has been called the busiest area on Earth for airport development, accounting for 48.5% of global spend on airport upgrades and 57% of investment in new airports. Starting from scratch in very recent years means airports in Asia and the Middle East can leverage innovative design and offer seamless technology and services to passengers, as seen in some of the world’s top airports like Singapore Changi, Incheon International and Dubai International.

On the other hand, airports in the US and Europe must contend with how to update long-standing facilities to accommodate booming passenger numbers. Europe and the US are home to the world’s 10 oldest airports while the average US airport is over 40 years old.

Mignon concludes: “But infrastructure alone does not deliver traveller satisfaction. With so many innovative travel experience solutions now coming to market, this is an exciting time for airports in every region to consider new ways to boost traveller satisfaction and spend.

“Airports in Asia and the Middle East can integrate trailblazing products and services into their offering, to ensure travellers’ on-the-ground experience matches the airports’ modern physical infrastructure. A brand-new terminal may look impressive to a traveller, but unless the services offered are equally cutting-edge, customers won’t be satisfied.

“Airports in the US and Europe have a different challenge and must seek out solutions that enable a seamless journey and offer unexpected moments of delight, so that no matter the age of the infrastructure, travellers enjoy a world-class airport experience.”

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