Airports; connected cities of the Future?

Tuesday 26 January 2021 @ 10:00am – 11:00am GMT

With what will soon be 12 months of international lockdowns and social distancing measures, many industries have been irrevocably affected. None more so than travel. Many countries have closed boarders to almost all international travellers for at least some of the last year and the general consensus that air travel is too much of a risk to public health for most would-be tourists to embark on their journeys.

This coupled with the almost total drop-off of business travel with working from home and therefore video conferencing becoming the go-to medium for conversation, it’s fair to say that airports around the world have been one of the worst affected.

Early announcements in 2020 of BA ending all business travel from Gatwick which spurred many other air operators to follow suit which instigated the conversation within the re:think team to ask what the future of the airport will be.

The first and most important point we made was that these changes were already coming. Much like industries such as retail, changes that we may have seen towards the end of the decade have been thrust upon us due to the global situation. What we must also remember is that the pandemic will end, we don’t yet know when, but it will and the “normality” we all crave will return, however, it’s likely that it may not look like what we remember.

Travel is exciting, and airports were developing over time to become more than transport interchanges. Airports used to be built outside a city – as far from the urban center as possible. Now airports are acting as urban microcosms themselves and even prompting cities to develop around them. Airports prior to the pandemic were starting to respond to huge numbers of travellers and the increasing time they spend in terminals by offering new services and amenities. To continue to attract the post-pandemic traveller, these will have to work far harder to provide a sense of safety and quality of environment, not just security from the historic risks we faced.

Pre-pandemic airports were encouraging many transport related or international businesses to set up in close proximity, with our changing working habits, will this continue to be the case? Will these hubs remain the economic powerhouses they once were generating jobs, revenue and infrastructure?

The acceleration of ‘kurb to gate’ will become far more important; Pre-pandemic, we were experiencing a move by some airports to streamline the journey from being dropped off at departures and boarding the plane, for example at Bangalore International Airport the Digi Yatra had been launched to allow passengers to use a fully biometric self-boarding solution. This type of offer may become far more prevalent in airports wanting to provide the best possible service whilst reducing human interaction. The inclusion of COVID19 or other illness testing information into the biometrics of a passport could be easily implemented to further reduce the risk of international travel.

“From Stack to Flow” The elimination of barriers to allow a safer, more continuous stream of travellers rather than the historic method of stacking as many travellers into the departure lounge as possible prior to flights leaving will create more space within airports increasing the appearance of health security. This will lead to a removal of Landside/Airside barrier allowing airports to act like an urban centre. Passengers will become more like people with the ability to flow through the building/barriers without causing security risks to flights. This will then allow new uses to enter the ‘airport’ space such as office, destination leisure/experience, events and unique retail offerings.

Much of the rapid changes in our high street economies will be mirrored in airports, such as:

Click & Collect

Smart ticketing using mobile devices will become the predominant way to access airports/departure gates and planes, further improving the flow of traffic in and out of these buildings.

Automated Identity (Amazon Shops/Mobile Banking)

The inclusion of biometric automation will allow an almost seamless flow of traffic through these buildings, much like the use of mobile ticketing, if your passport became an app, much like your bank account and it was automatically detected much like the Amazon go stores unveiled in N.America, airport security as when know/knew it may become a thing of the past.

Smart Data

Much like the personalised shopping experience that can be offered using smart data gained from the way in which we use our technological devices, this information can be used to tailor our experience within the airport, providing guidance on travel, timing, alerts, wait times and directions.

Personalised Retail

Retail and retailers must now have a much more personal offering to continue to attract customers, this same experience will be mirrored in our airports and travel marketing making the entire process feel bespoke to each and every person

Hopefully the points above will provide a basis for the conversation, and as always, we welcome as many viewpoints and opinions to attend our discussion event.

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Tuesday 26 January 2021 @ 10:00am – 11:00am GMT