Over the past decade, the disposable income of the Indian population has been steadily increasing, a large part of which is spent on dining and travel. This has contributed to the growth of the restaurant and QSR segments. Additionally, with 62% of the youth vacationing for up to 5 times a year, the tourism industry is also booming. The combined growth of the two industries has led to the development of the travel food retail sector through the 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 as this novel consumer base is looking for superior quality food and services, making the existence of such reputable food chains at airports a necessity. Quality dining opportunities for jet setters were once 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 like Dominos, KFC, Krispy Kreme and more, have established outlets 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 leading apps like Swiggy or UberEats, which have increased their business by a huge margin through the provision of a new avenue for customers. The trend has permeated into the travel retail industry, with apps like Food@Gate gaining popularity amongst travellers. The app aggregates menus from all the food outlets at the airport and serves fresh and hot food to the customer at his/her seat. This smart use of technology has led customers to avail maximum utility and comfortable experience at airports. The advent of technology has also brought with it, new 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 Airport, New Delhi were introduced to Mitri, a friendly robot created to give customers a one-of-a-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 Airport Lounges. From the time of entering the airport until boarding the plane, the demand for comfortable and luxurious transit is on the rise and is now being met by airport lounges. One of the ways to reduce the 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 plying through them. As a result, airport lounges are focusing on offering their customers the best in comfort and dining.
Therefore, airport lounges across the globe have now started offering high-end and unconventional services like 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 with their time. Lounges provide brands with an opportunity to experiment with new marketing techniques. Luxury brands in the liquor industry thus, now have exclusive tasting areas at leading airports all over the world 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 view of the vast airport runway. It also features specific relaxation zones with comfortable sofas and chairs with in-built massagers 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 the 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 like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and AI are quickly becoming part of the burgeoning‘customised’ experience. High-end facilities like lounges, robots, and food delivery apps are certainly leading the industry trends currently, and constantly getting updated. As the travel Retail industry is only expected to flourish, with constant innovation in finding new touchpoints to reach out to the customers, its future lies in the creation of new and diverse ideas.
This article has been posted by Gaurav Dewan, COO and Business Head, Travel Food Services (TFS). TFS is the leader in the Travel F&B and Retail Industry in the Indian Sub-continent with operations spread across air, rail and road.