On how this is an opportunity for travel retailers: Gates are boring

As most airports are built as shopping centres, long waiting times are logically filled with a pleasant shopping spree. At least, they used to. A new audience is entering the travel retail market and they tend to show other behaviour at the airport.

Millennials are the newest audience in travel retail. There are more than 2 billion of them on the planet and they’re travelling more than previous generations. Millennials cover 28.1% of the total amount of passengers at Schiphol Airport. But, they turn out to be tough cookies as it comes to reaching them.


Millennials seem to be the generation of being digitally connected all the time, having too many choices, and getting bored really fast. Well, research shows this is all true. We’re sorry to say, but millennials think airports are boring. Mainly the gate areas. As millennials are relatively unfamiliar with the offerings at the airport - whether it is retail, food & beverage or travel services - they tend to go straight to the gate. Once there, they stick around, check their smartphones or… just are bored.

Now, this boredom can be seen as problematic, but it is actually the perfect opportunity to get this tough audience’s attention. There are so many creative solutions to consider. At Helsinki Airport and Schiphol Airport for example, traditional - yet boring - airport furniture was replaced by cool design made in the country. Interiors brand Made.com restyled several piers and lounges at Schiphol Airport with items of its own designer furniture. The living-room settings brighten up the piers and are a fabulously functional and fun way to utilize the space. Travellers can sit down in comfort and enjoy a pleasant area to spend time in. At the same time this is enabling the brand to literally design a successful campaign.

Other ways to brighten up the gate experience? Well, for example, passengers flying from Frankfurt Airport can watch full-length movies in free access cinema rooms during their waiting time. Or another source of inspiration is watching a live sports game and using Dropit, a New Zealand-based interactive app that holds live auctions on stadium scoreboards. And at Edmonton Airport a ‘short story dispenser kiosk’ was installed to make the wait at the gate more enjoyable. Users select a story that prints on a piece of paper to enjoy while waiting for a flight. At Prague Airport, travellers and airport visitors can play a giant game of chess or another board game while waiting. Also, Lubbock International Airport placed two permanent giant chess sets inside the passenger terminal. Travellers can move the chess mat to whatever place they like. For the next decade gate experience marketing is an important trend, and the possibilities are endless.

Want millennials’ attention? Be around on their smartphones

But, to be honest, the most efficient way to connect with these youngsters is through the tool they hold in their hands all the time. “Travellers are constantly looking on their phones,” says Frank Quix, Managing director of Q&A and lecturer in Retail Strategy & Marketing at Amsterdam Business School. “What do people do at the airport? They maybe take a walk through the shops, grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, and after that they are heading towards the gate. There, they sit, they wait, for at least half an hour. What they do to kill time? They stare at their phones.” Especially millennials. Especially when bored. Their smartphone is their hub of planning, experiencing, sharing and shopping while they travel. “Use that screen as a communication tool,” Quix advises. Airlines are doing this already. My boarding pass is on my phone, KLM lets me know where my gate is, where my luggage is arriving. Why couldn’t retailers do the same?”

The best way to make a connection, research shows, is not by making your customers download new fancy apps, but simply through the apps they already use. Think about travel updates via WhatsApp. Or, for example, Schiphol Airport, in partnership with Deliveroo, enables travellers to have their food brought to their gate within minutes of ordering. Partnering with these brands can bring an extra level of convenience and that is exactly what millennials are looking for.

With this tool they are already using for… well, everything, they might still have the time to buy that product they experienced in store earlier. And, what if you can arrange for them to either have it delivered at their homes, or maybe even at the gate. “Travellers have lots of time to kill, on board, at the gate,” explains Quix. “As a marketeer, why wouldn’t you make that time yours?”)