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Joe Bates takes a closer look at some of the latest and most innovative customer focused initiatives unveiled at the region’s airports.

 From Incheon’s ice rink, Singapore Changi’s ‘Social Tree’ and roaming airport ambassadors in Dubai and Hong Kong, there is no doubting that the region’s airports continue to lead the world when it comes to customer service innovation.

Indeed, Asia-Pacific airports led by Incheon, Changi, Seoul Gimpo, Delhi-Indira Gandhi, Mumbai-Chhatrapati Shivaji and Amman–Queen Alia are among the perennial winners of the top awards in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer satisfaction awards.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to discover that the region’s airports continue to raise the customer service bar through the introduction of new facilities and services.

Striking the right chord

Passengers passing through Brisbane Airport are getting used to being surprised and delighted by talented folk courtesy of its Artist-in-Residence programme, however, arguably it reached new heights in August when members of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (QSO) decided to take up the baton.

As a result, passengers travelling through the gateway may find themselves being serenaded by the QSO, which has agreed to undertake six ‘pop-up’ performances in the international and domestic terminals during its residency – three of which are due to take place before the end of 2016.

Brisbane Airport has long been a champion of the arts across Queensland, as a major investor in projects and organisations from music and theatre to ballet, exhibitions and festivals, and has commissioned dozens of works for one of the biggest and most significant collections of public art in Australia valued at more than $10 million.

Julieanne Alroe, Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) CEO and managing director, reveals that the Artist-in-Residence programme aims to do more than entertain travellers as they pass through the terminals.

“There’s a growing awareness of Brisbane as a city dedicated to the arts, and Queensland as a cultural destination, and we want to add momentum to that,” she enthuses.

“We are extremely lucky to have an abundance of creative artists and performers in our own backyard and, through our Artist-in-Residence programme, we’re able to showcase these talents to a broader audience and hopefully inspire visitors to our city and indeed locals to take a closer look at what Queensland has to offer.”

QSO interim chief executive, Rodney Phillips, said his musicians were thrilled to perform for Queensland locals and visitors alike at Brisbane Airport.

He says: “The experience of hearing orchestral music live is like the anticipation people feel at an airport – there’s the excitement of new places and new sounds as well as the memories and warm embrace of family, much like the feeling you get when you hear favourite pieces of music.

“We hope our airport performances will encourage people to take full advantage of Queensland’s vibrant cultural landscape when they are visiting.”

Artificial intelligence

It has been quite a year for IT innovation at Tokyo Haneda as hot on the heels of the appearance by Nao, Japan Airlines’ humanoid guide, the gateway unleashed a handful of robotic cleaners in the International Terminal to ensure that the complex was spotlessly clean and tidy for passengers.

Fans of the Terminator films will smile when they discover that the creator of the slick new machines is Cyberdyne, although in this case it is simply has Inc at the end of its name and not Systems, the fictitious IT company of the sci-fi films.

The new cleaning robots have been in operation at behind the scenes locations in the Domestic Terminal for a year, but this is the first time that they have been so visible to the general public. 

They have been commissioned by Japan Airport Terminal Co Ltd (JATCO) – the private operator of Haneda’s passenger terminals – which has signed an agreement with Cyberdyne to provide it with the next generation of robots for the airport.

Cyberdyne hopes that the robot’s success at Tokyo Haneda will eventually lead to contracts at Japan’s regional airports and beyond.


Interactive art

There is something a little different about Singapore Changi’s latest art works – they are interactive and fun!

Installed across all three terminals in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board, Changi Airport Group (CAG) claims that the new arrivals are designed to “engage, excite and encourage visitors to explore in and beyond the airport”.

Arguably the highlight of the new arrivals is a contemporary ‘digital wall’ in Terminal 2’s Departure Transit Lounge that uses motion-sensing technology to make monochromatic portraits of passengers.

“When a passenger stands in front of the wall, motion is detected and the option to take a portrait is offered,” explains CAG.

“Next, the passenger can pick a backdrop and the portrait is superimposed on it. The entire creation then appears on the screen in a black and white flip-dot display, which can be sent to friends and family over email. 

“Iconic background options include Gardens by the Bay, Merlion Park as well as Changi Airport’s control tower and Kinetic Rain art installation.

On the other side of the interactive screen is a ‘Motion Silhouette Wall’, which responds to movements in real time. Adopting the same motion-sensing technology, backdrops and patterns change as passengers in front of the wall move and interact with the animation.

Bernard Siew, CAG’s vice president of experience creation, says: “These new variations are designed to engage their senses and create pleasant memories of their visit to Singapore and Changi Airport. We look forward to offering even more unique concepts to delight our travellers.”


Sleep tight

With long-haul travel on the rise and more transit passengers than ever before expected to pass through the world’s gateways over the next decade, arguably now is the time for airports to start thinking more about creating facilities and services for sleepy passengers. 

Some already are, of course, either through the opening of transit hotels, the creation of ‘quiet zones’ with comfortable seating or introducing facilities such as sleep pods or cabins where passengers can separate themselves from the outside environment. 

One such example of innovation in this area can be found at Tokyo Narita which has its own capsule hotel, called 9h nine hours, where travellers can sleep cheaply in air conditioned tube like spaces for around $40 for a night.

Upon checking in, guests receive a key that provides access to a locker, a shower and their private capsule. They also receive a towel, a handful of toiletries and some loungewear. 

Each of the 129 capsules measures a metre high and two metres long and is stacked next to and on top of other in gender-specific sections – 71 rooms being for men and 58 for women.

As check in time is 10am and guests paying $40 can stay until midday the following day, theoretically customers can stay up to 22 hours for their money.

Tokyo Narita explains that the facility, located a minutes’ walk of Terminal 2, caters for passengers taking early morning flights and is a first for an airport in Japan.

The hotel might not be for everyone, but it has enjoyed over 60,000 guests in its first year, so there is definitely a market for such budget style accommodation in Tokyo.


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