The history of travel lounges traces back to 1939 when the American Airlines Admirals Club opened one up at New York City’s La Guardia Airport. Handled by individual airline companies for their premium travellers, airport lounges were once meant only for the rich and frequent travellers, still holding that perception at many places, till date. They were created by airlines to boost customer loyalty and make them feel special, right from the airport itself. This definition of travel lounges has of course seen a massive change internationally, with the advent of common use lounges.
More travel, more lounges
The primary factor contributing to the growth of travel lounges today is the increase in travellers across the country. As per a Directorate General Of Civil Aviation (DGCA) report, passengers carried by domestic airlines during Jan-Feb 2019 were 23.9 million, against 22.2 million during the corresponding period of the previous year, thereby registering a growth of 7.42%. This increase in the number of travellers can be attributed to a host of factors: changing lifestyle choices, increased connectivity to previously problematic locations, and rise in disposable income- to name a few.
The government’s UDAN scheme has played an important role in providing economically viable flights to under-served airports. Additionally, the perception of what constitutes a holiday or vacation has also undergone an immense change, with people often taking advantage of long weekends to go jet-setting across the country. The convenience and time savings resulting from air travel, coupled with the rise in disposable income across all socio-economic classes, has produced a surge of travellers, and thus, has also led to an increase in the number of people visiting airports. These factors have indicated an urgent need in the industry for travel lounges to constantly evolve, and offer better services to their customers.
Lounges were originally created as a space for solace, in an otherwise busy environment. Although this has been the case for a very long time, today, this idea is gradually evolving. Many of these lounges have today transformed into a hotspot for people to look for peace, relaxation, and good food, away from the hustle and bustle of an airport environment. Thus, several airport lounges,across the world, like the American Express (Amex) Centurion Lounge in Dallas, and the GVK Lounge by TFS Performa at Terminal 2 of CSMIA, Mumbai, have gone beyond the expected plush seating and complimentary food and beverages to start offering unconventional services like in-house spas, state of the art business centres, world-class concierge services, and more, to help customers utilise their time more effectively.
Services like in-house gyms and multi-purpose lounging spaces having fully stacked libraries, and viewing decks, among others, have been incorporated in travel lounges to cater to busy travellers who wish to make the most of their time. Lounges have become a destination of their own with travellers making decisions of layover flights based on the services offered by the airport lounge in the city.
Lounges, today, have become very different from before, even serving as a place for brands to set up marketing efforts to reach their niche audiences through creating experiential zones. However, traditional advertisements in a space like lounges can actually be detrimental to the brands. Brands have, therefore, come up with smarter ways to market themselves. For example, at Portland International Airport, one can find a Whiskey Tasting Area that is dedicated to helping customers get the feel of the spirits offered by a local distillery. It is a very different way of engaging with the desired audience while they are on transit. As such, lounges offer brands a space to be creative and find more experiential ways to reach out to customers.
India: home to the best lounges
In India, the trailblazer of travel lounges and the exceptional experience that they offer is the GVK Lounge at Terminal 2 of CSMIA, Mumbai. The Lounge offers a best-in-class range of every kind of service that a traveller can think of, be it gourmet food to fully stacked liquor and wine range sourced from across the World. The interiors have a soothing effect on a tired traveller, along offering a sense of opulence and belonging at the same time. The place almost feels like home, for anyone who stays!
This is further accentuated by a professional concierge desk that provides any support that travellers might need about the destination, and a tasteful selection of food and beverage options, encompassing the epitome of class and luxury. Going beyond what a traditional lounge offers, the GVK lounge also features relaxation areas which feature a line of recliner chairs with in-built massagers, where tired travellers can catch a quick nap before their long flights. It exactly features like these that go a long way and demonstrate innovation that lounges have inculcated in their design to increase customer satisfaction.
Travellers now look forward to having all their senses engaged and excited when going on a trip, and this sensory need starts from the airports itself. Travel lounges can tap this need in a unique way and enhance the travel experience of customers. Be it in terms of intelligent interior designs or the incorporation of the latest technology and features, travel lounges have to keep reinventing themselves to stay relevant, and to find new touch-points to create needs for the customers that they didn’t realise they had. Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘Don’t change anything.” This is why the future of travel lounges lies in innovating and finding more unconventional ways to service customers by creating new needs for them.
This article is contributed by Gaurav Dewan, Chief Operating Officer & Business Head, TFS – Travel Food Services. 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.