Over the past decade, the disposable income of the Indian population has been steadily increasing, and a large part of it is spent on dining and travelling. This has contributed to the growth of the restaurant and QSR segments. Additionally, with 62% of the youths vacationing for up to 5 times a year, the tourism industry is booming, too. The combined growth of the two industries has led to the development of the retail travel food sector through adoption of innovative technology and the entry of food chain services, especially at airports, where the two worlds meet.
Airport retail comes as a boon for travellers waiting due to layovers, or flight delays. This increase in footfall has made airports a magnet for F&B outlets because this novel consumer base is looking for superior-quality food and services, making such reputable food chains at airports a necessity.
Earlier, quality dining opportunities for jetsetters were scarce and compelled travellers to rely on home-cooked meals or in-flight meal options. Today, the industry has evolved to the point where airports have transformed into a food connoisseur’s haven. Renowned fast food chains, such as McDonald’s, Dominos, KFC, Krispy Kreme and so on, have established outlets at airports in metros like Mumbai and New Delhi.
A growing trend in the F&B industry is the popularity of food delivery apps. Restaurants and cafés are now getting listed on such leading apps as Swiggy, Zomato and UberEats, which have increased their business by a huge margin through provision of a new avenue for customers. The trend has permeated into the retail travel industry, with such apps as Food@Gate gaining popularity among travellers. The app aggregates menus from all the food outlets at the airport and serves fresh and hot food to the customer in his/her seat. This smart use of technology has led customers to avail of the maximum utility and a comfortable experience at the airport.
Enter, Mitri, the Robot Waiter!
The advent of technology has also brought with it newer ways to cater to customers at airports to provide a unique and novel experience, especially through the integration of robotics. In January 2019, travellers passing through the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport in New Delhi were introduced to Mitri, a friendly robot created to provide customers with a one-of-its-kind engaging experience. Mitri not only greets incoming customers, but also offers them food recommendations to suit their varied preferences.
Another emerging avenue in the ‘Airport Experience’ is the airport lounges. From the time of entering the airport till boarding the flight, the demand for comfortable and luxurious transit is on the rise and this is now being met by airport lounges. One of the ways to reduce stress and inconvenience is to provide a place to satisfy the four ‘Rs’ — Respite, a place to Relax, Reconnect and Recharge — before beginning their transit. While waiting areas at airports have witnessed several changes, premium lounges have gone through a revolution of their own. Airports are on the verge of becoming destinations in themselves with their architecture, amenities, shopping arcades et al, making travellers look forward to going through them. As a result, airport lounges are focusing on offering their customers the best in comfort and dining.
So, airport lounges across the globe have now started offering high-end and unconventional services, such as in-house spas and gyms, to provide a holistic experience to customers. Some airports also have guest offices to cater to the growing number of business travellers who need to maximise productivity in their limited time. Lounges provide brands an opportunity to experiment with new marketing techniques.
Luxury liquor brands, thus, now have exclusive tasting areas at leading airports worldwide and are able to leverage this unique avenue for experiential marketing strategies. In India, the GVK Lounge at Mumbai’s international airport offers state-of-the-art facilities overlooking the vast airport runway. It also features specific relaxation zones with comfortable sofas and chairs and in-built masseurs for tired travellers to unwind after long flights. Lounges are now nothing short of an exclusive hotel inside the airport, with F&B options that meet international standards, as well as facilities that redefine the very meaning of class and luxury.
Travel and food are no more about going to a new place and tasting something new, or different; it is about being able to engage all of one’s senses and experience something novel. This new definition has compelled airports to get creative with their offerings and services and provide something that is both utilitarian and luxurious. Technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are quickly becoming part of the burgeoning ‘customised’ experience.
High-end facilities, such as lounges, robots and food delivery apps are certainly leading the industry trends currently and getting updated constantly. As the retail travel industry is only expected to flourish with constant innovation in finding new touch points to reach out to customers, its future lies in the creation of newer and more diverse ideas.
(Gaurav Dewan is COO & Business Head, Travel Food Services Pvt. Ltd)