Travel experiences are undergoing a rapid transformation in the ever-evolving landscape of the aviation sector. Envision a scenario where an eco-friendly train seamlessly picks you up from your community, transporting you directly to the concourse of the plane destined for your desired destination. The innovative approach enhances convenience and provides ample time for duty-free shopping before your journey.
That’s the future of aviation in the coming decades, according to Paul Griffiths, CEO, Dubai Airports. Speaking during the Dubai Airshow 2023 on Tuesday, Griffiths gave a peek into what the future holds for the aviation sector.
Talking about his vision, Griffiths said, “Thinking needs to go where we can integrate the transport with the local communities; we can make trains completely sustainable to run on clean energy. If we can provide a very quick outside check-in where you drop your bag and sit in a comfortable train directly taking you to the gate closest to your aeroplane.”
Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, at a session in Dubai Airshow on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. Photo by Shihab
Self-contained connected concourses
Individuals converge at airports from different locations only to find themselves waiting in queues upon arrival. Subsequently, they undergo another round of redistribution to various sections of the airport before finally boarding their flights.
“The design we are looking for at Al Maktoum International Airport is to have a series of self-contained connected concourses. We don’t see a mega terminal in the future if you get the technology right. The journey can be intimate – you get onto the train in the carriage that marks New York and get to the concourse where your New York flight awaits. There are no huge walking distances and plenty of time to shop before you get onto the plane. It is a much more pleasant experience for customers.”
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Dubai International Airport is on the brink of revolutionising the check-in and departure process. Cutting-edge AI technologies to usher in a new era of seamless travel, eliminating traditional hassles and streamlining the overall passenger experience.
The CEO continued, “In the future, we would not have to check in at all. The idea is if you’re travelling in one of the premium cabins and have a limo (limousine), you should be able to do the check-in process while you’re in transit. It should be all about dropping the bag and getting onto the plane.”
Experiences, not brands
Dubai Airports’ chief stressed that airports should be a place of welcome, where travellers enjoy and have new experiences.
“What shopping malls do is more about experience than actual products. The way brands are investing in advertising now, you can instantly tell how different their current campaigns are from 20 years ago. Now, it is all about human immersion and how you feel. It is much more about human connection. We are seeking experiences.”
Citing an example, he said people wanted to own Ferraris and Porsches earlier. “Now talk to Generation Z; they are not into brands; they are into experiences. I want the new generation to feel welcomed. I want them to feel that the product offered to them is relevant. I want them to find F&B brands at the airport that are relevant to current tastes. It is not rocket science, and industry can do this a lot better,” he said during the interview on the topic of “Future Technology and sustainable transport hub”.
Airports are hotels
Airports should take a leaf out of the hospitality sector and operate like hotels. “The problem with airports is that they have forgotten which business they are into. We are like hotels; we are fundamentally in the hospitality business. Too many people in the airport industry think they’re managing infrastructure.”
Citing an example, he revealed that he was kept waiting in queues for four hours and 40 minutes at a US airport.
“Everyone needs to recognise that travel needs to be something that people enjoy, and it ain’t an absolute pain.”
No more travel agents
With the advancements in technology, the aviation sector should sweep side legacy processes, and there is no need for travel agents or third parties in the chain to distribute travel capacity, he added.
“It was very easy to build on what you’ve already built – putting a brick on top of another brick never produces the best results. With technology, you don’t need to do that. Some airline reservations are still written in a language called TPF, which is no longer on the planet. We should be sweeping a lot of legacy processes aside and starting afresh. That is what new airlines such as Riyadh Air got the opportunity to do. We don’t need a third party in the chain to distribute travel capacity. We don’t need travel agents anymore. We need to connect consumers directly to the product,” said Paul Griffiths, CEO, Dubai Airports.
He added that the difficulty is that new airports seem to be associated with a massive increase in walking distances, which needs to be tackled. “The legacy processes we are dealing with have to go. It is time to reinvent.”