Wayfinding Expert. Audits, Training & Signage

Wayfaring banner

Commercial Opportunities in Airports Using Wayfinding

Welcome back to the wayfinding channel. I’m Paul Symonds and I am the wayfinding expert and this time I will explain some of the ways in which you can create opportunities to drive up income in airports. These techniques though can also be applied to locations such as shopping centres and other large indoor spaces.

In many airports, particularly in countries such as the UK where airports are independent from government controls, there has been a much greater push in recent years to bring money in from sources other than just landing fees.

Whether you are a UK airport or based somewhere else in the world, there are a number of techniques you can use to improve revenue using wayfinding.

1. Open store fronts

Open storefront

Open stores fronts

One key technique that some airports now use (and you will also see this in many shopping malls) is to use open store fronts. By using drop down shutters that can be used if the store needs to be closed, it removes all of the barriers that walls create for entry into the store in question.

By creating an open spacious store front it is extremely easy for people to enter the store and, from a wayfinding perspective, this is a type of guidance technique for making the store inviting to enter.

Make sure also that nothing blocks the entrance into a store and importantly that there is ample space for all users including wheelchair users, for example. Thinking about how all users can enter the stores is important and gone are the days where one door to enter a store in an airport is the right way to design access into these places.

Catania airport store

Closed storefront in a Sicilian airport

This is an example of a close store front from an airport in Italy. The experience is really very different and, in terms of wayfinding and commercial design, outdated. It takes an effort to find the entrance, you might have to wait for others to exit before you can enter and there is less space to walk around the displays. As a wheelchair user it also is much more hassle to enter and shop in such a store.

2. Steering behaviour

Styeering behaviors through Duty Free

Forced steering behavior through a commercial Duty Free area.

The term steering behaviour is also used to refer to directing people to places that they may not have otherwise thought to go. You see this in many museums whereby they make you go through the crowded souvenir shop in order that you can escape, I mean exit.

In many airports, especially in the UK, users are now forced to walk through the Duty Free ares, even if they do not want to because, to get to the departures area after going through security, the one route is through duty free.

In these areas, airports often stick display stands in the middle of the path and, if you have kids who like to try and touch everything, it can be a nightmare, especially with expensive perfumes, on the stands. Love or hate being forced to walk through a winding path through the Duty Free store of an airport, airports are now making huge amounts of money from sales in the their duty free stores, so do not expect this form of forced wayfinding to end anytime soon. As an airport, guiding people along the routes that are commercially valuable such as through duty free is a useful technique and one that I do not see used much in many countries, such as Italy, which I travel to often.

3. FIDs in Bars and Restaurants

Flight Information Display

Placing FIDs in restaurants, bars and cafes in the departures area of an airport can mean more dwell time in commercial locations.

Passengers have been proven to spend more money when they are relaxed and one location that is particularly good for relaxation and commercial income, is in bars and restaurants in the airport. A very simple technique to keep people in these locations for longer and such that they will spend more is to ensure that you have visible FIDs (flight information displays as you see in this photo) inside bars and restaurants in the departures lounge. This removes the need for passengers to stand under an FID in general areas that have no commercial value to you as an airport.

4. Advertising in unusual places

Branding on a rubbish bin

Building the commercial opportunities, narrative and branding through using props such as a bin

A less often used commercial opportunity in most airports is using simple items to not only build possible advertising opportunities, but to also build a narrative around the location where your airport is situated. I cover narratives and airports in another video, so I won’t delve into this any further for now. From the rubbish bin (or garbage can if you are American), you can see that this type of item is an easy opportunity for adding advertising income. This is not really a wayfinding example but it is one technique for building a narrative along the route someone takes and benefiting commercially.

5. Providing the right information

Departures gates facilities information

Provision of facilities at the departure gates

Another great way to develop commercial income as an airport in relation to wayfinding is to ensure that you provide he right information to passengers. By this what I mean is that in many airports, once you get to your final boarding gate, you might find that there are facilities such as bars, restaurants and stores that you did not expect would be there. Thus, if you had known earlier on, you would have come to your boarding area sooner, relaxed more and potentially spent more. Try to provide information on what facilities are in different corners of the airport such as done in this sign you see right now. You can also use your website to provide printable maps of the different parts of the airport, or you might want to map the area for mobile devices. You would not need to use any form of indoor GPS as you could map everything just according to gate numbers. Make sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel using the subscribe button below and you can watch the video on indoor mapping in the coming weeks.

6. Ensuring that users are relaxed enough to want to spend

The term ‘seamless’ is an important one in understanding wayfinding when it comes to commercial opportunities. Ultimately, a passenger’s whole journey (from the point of view of an airport) should be seen as being from the moment they leave their house to the moment they depart on a plane. Why? Well, a passenger who, for example, gets lost just trying to find the airport, will already be frustrated and agitated and this does not suit increasing spending behaviour. Relaxed passengers spend more. It is simple!

On a recent trip through a UK airport, the postcode on the airport’s website was wrong and it was a nightmare and one that left me agitated and also gave me less time in the airport during which I could spend. Do everything you can to create a seamless experience for passengers, such as by offering clear instructions and information on your website, by talking and communicating well with service providers who help to guide passengers to your airport. You can watch the separate video on wayfinding and creating a seamless experience for more on this.

7. Work to improve dwell time further

TIME! You need to allow people time for what is termed “recreational wayfinding”. Exploration, getting lost within a controlled environment you might say. Time to explore the bars, restaurants and shops and attractions in an airport. Time to spend money!

The questions to ask yourself are:

Are you improving what is called dwell time, that is the time people are able to spend somewhere. Is there any way at all that you can move passengers through the check in process to get them into the departures area faster, given that most commercial facilities tend to be air-side?

Extra staffing, whilst often immediately discounted because of costs, can actually mean a great increase in revenue. Extra staffing which results in greater numbers of users getting through to the bar and restaurants areas can mean a significant change in income.

8. Increase retail and Market yourself as a shopping hub

One common complaint in surveys that have been done in airports is that there is not enough choice at airports. This is a common issue, so do consider carefully and look at the viability of improving choice for users.

9. Help passengers find what they need quickly

In doing this though, you need to help users find what it is that they are looking for. You are in an airport and want to buy toiletries and you have some time to spare but are unsure of how far away the Boots store is, you don’t chance it. You might want to buy a book but you are unsure of where the WHSmiths or Waterstone is in the airport. It might be very close but you are unsure. As an airport, providing a simple map of the airport areas can help this. Once again, it does not need to be GPS connected so it is a very cheap service to provide.

10. Positioning

Seating planning for wayfinding

Seating planning for wayfinding

Some techniques for increasing revenue are really very simple and yet easily overlooked.

I was in one airport recently doing an audit for them and I noted that the seats were facing with the backs to the stores. If you are going to have a seating area, try and have the seats looking at the retail outlets. This is known to increase revenues! It is surprising how often such a simple consideration is overlooked by designers!

Share this post!


Related Posts


Training info

Wayfinding signage

Wayfinding signage

Wayfinding Categories – Read by Subject