- Feb 26 2015
For most people, airports are noisy, busy, stress-filled spaces that are the obligatory passageway to their final destination. In fact, travelers consider airports to be more stressful than working or even moving house. Despite all these factors, people continue to travel – and at record rates – causing companies to flex their creative muscles in an effort to win their business.
For many airlines, the passengers in the front of the aircraft account for roughly 80 percent of total turnover. “When first class and business class passengers spend upwards of 5 to 10 thousand dollars on their ticket, their expectations can be quite high,” says Richard Cripps, operations director of Sodexo Prestige airport lounge services in the United Kingdom. In order to gain their loyalty, airlines begin the wooing process from the moment travelers set foot in the airport.
Sodexo’s work with Virgin Atlantic has played a role in helping the company become known and widely recognized for its sky-is-the-limit approach to airport lounges – or clubhouses as the company has dubbed the concept. “In our clubhouses, we remove all visual reminders of a terminal to take the stress out of traveling,” says Matthew Callard, Head of Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses. Some of Virgin’s wooing techniques include expertly designed and decorated lounges, complementary fine dining experiences, chic cocktail options, on-site spa services and even an attendant to press clothing while travel-worn passengers freshen up with a shower or a shave. “We want our customers to feel that their vacation begins once they arrive at the airport – not once they reach their destination,” says Callard.
Creating this experience goes beyond amenities and requires a very high level of customer service. Sodexo ensures that staff members servicing guests are expertly trained – particularly in regional etiquette, which can make quite a difference in certain airports. For example, employees in Arab-based lounges are sensitive to the dining specificities of halal diets as well as the etiquette precisions when dealing directly with male or female passengers.
“Investing time and effort into the ground experience is definitely a competitive advantage,” says Callard. And should anything go amiss, the opposite also holds true. “Every customer is a critic,” says Nigel Scott, global operations director of Sodexo prestige airport lounge services. “With social media, they have every opportunity to voice an opinion.” Airlines can receive these opinions – positive, or damaging – very publicly via Twitter and Facebook. And some companies receive as many as 18 mentions each second.
While passengers now search for true Quality of Life benefits to ease the stress of traveling, the burgeoning number of travelers today creates 1.1 billion opportunities for airline companies to develop loyal, life-long customers.
As more people take to the skies each year, airlines and airports alike do everything possible to attract their share of the traffic – with a particular focus on first and business class passengers.
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