The Needs for the Airport Experience

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Since the early 2000s, airport experience (AE) has emerged as a new concept for airport management to help them improve passenger satisfaction. A positive airport experience has increasingly been considered, particularly by international hub airports, to be a key factor in enhancing both airline revenues and passenger revenues. Positive airport experience can also help to draw local residents and airlines to an airport when alternative choices of airports exist. Moreover, the concept of airport experience has ramifications for the tourism industry.

Industry research shows that “a happy passenger spends more”, so the focus of airport management is to enhance overall customer experience. Modern airports not only provide infrastructure for the airlines, but also provide other facilities of interest for air travellers. As such, the airport has become a multipurpose site where passengers can be exposed to a wide range of activities, which significantly contribute to the airport’s non-aeronautical revenue (for instance through its catering, retailing, leisure and even its car parking facilities).

The traditional approach of passenger segmentation has been based on the purpose of the travel, which has not provided enough in-depth understanding about air travellers. This has led to research studies on passenger segmentation recommending alternative ways of segmenting passengers. Apart from differentiating air travellers on the purpose of their travel, or from the frequency of their travel, other elements such as ‘time sensitivity’ were proposed. The length of time that air travellers have at the airport, and the level of their engagement, can help airport authorities better understand the needs of air travellers and to help them enhance their airport experience.

The study by researchers from Queensland University of Technology categorised the segmentation of passengers according to the element of time and their engagement at the Brisbane airport. They came up with four types of air travellers, as shown below:

  • The Airport Enthusiasts are the travellers engaging in the airport environment, and who are not overly time sensitive. They enjoy the airport time and are willing to engage and experience the offerings provided for them. This group represents the highest yield for airports due to the group’s positive attitude and high engagement in the airport experience;
  • The Time Fillers are the travellers not engaging in the airport environment and are not sensitive with time. Time fillers consider airports as undesirable places to travel. Due to their low level of engagement, this group provides the lowest yield to the airport;
  • The Efficiency Lovers are the travellers not engaging in airport activities, who have time pressures. This group of air travellers feels very sensitive and has low tolerance for inefficiency such as long The airport experience is mainly viewed relating to the level of efficiency that the airport provides;
  • The Efficient Enthusiasts are the travellers who are willing to engage in the airport environment but who face time pressures. This group desires efficiency, but at the same time shows a willingness to engage in the airport activities.

By being able to indicate the time that air travellers have, as well as their willingness for engagement, airport authorities can find a better way to design passenger experiences. For instance, more focus on those passengers in the Efficient Enthusiast group will help airports come up with ways to promote better processes (such as using self-service technology or add more potential service efficient channel) to add more time for passengers to engage in airport activities.  A focus on terminal planning and design, especially for new terminals is known to consider ‘time and engaging activities’ factors in mind.

Moreover, the growing number of experienced travellers has also affected their level of expectations  on the airport journey. Previous studies have indicated the role of the airport of, not only being the intermodal infrastructure, but also having key implications to a destination. The concept of sense of place is often seen as a concept that airport authorities use in order to promote the identity of a destination by including the cultural experience. Nevertheless, some airports forget that the perception towards a destination also depends on the visitors’ expectations of a place prior to their visit.

Apart from being the first place that air travellers encounter when arriving at a destination, airports are claimed to be ambassadors that give first and last impressions to visitors. Airports are also perceived as the place that visitors look at the projection of the destination slogan, in comparison to the real experience. Destinations that promote the characteristics of being efficient, or being friendly and hospitable will be observed of those characteristics by the airport visitors once they arrive at the particular airport. Airport authorities that fail to do so may undermine visitors expectation of a destination according to what the promotional message of a particular destination projects.

Previous studies highlight the needs for a closer role of airports and the tourism authority of a destination. Since air travellers mentally assess their actual experience at the airport and compare them with the tourism promotional message, passengers regard the airport as an integral part of their overall experience at the destination. Visitors to the country will be disappointed when they see that the airport does not allocate the necessary resources in order to enhance their airport experience which impair their tourism experience of a destination. This has important implications for the airport authority and the tourism authority who need to work more closely in order to instil the destination image amongst travellers.



Harrison, A., Popovic, V., & Kraal, B. (2015). A new model for airport passenger segmentation. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 21(3), 237-250.

Wattanacharoensil, W., Schuckert, M., Graham, A., & Dean, A. (2017). An analysis of the airport experience from an air traveler perspective. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 32, 124-135.

Huang, W. J., Xiao, H., & Wang, S. (2018). Airports as liminal space. Annals of Tourism Research, 70, 1-13.

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