Interview: The power of personal services at Frankfurt Airport

“With our service, you travel away from the normal hustle and bustle of the terminal.” The entrance to the VIP Services lounge at Pier B.

GERMANY. Frankfurt Airport VIP Services, a business segment of Fraport’s Retail & Properties unit, is on a mission to expand its footprint, services and appeal to key customer groups at the German hub. The division also aims to strike partnerships with other players across the travel eco-system, including in travel retail, in ways that can add value to its clients and enhance the array of experiences on offer at the airport.

Since early 2021, Frankfurt Airport’s VIP and visitor services, alongside its conferencing business, have been combined in one department. The key, says the VIP Services team, is to enable the unit to work with various airport authorities and other subsidiaries to offer reach across all areas and processes at the airport.

Today, the VIP Services arm is built around the lounge in the Terminal 1, Pier B Non-Schengen area, close to many of the luxury boutiques. Opened in 2017, this 1,300sq m luxury space offers guests an exclusive terminal entrance of their own, check-in, immigration and security control, a personal concierge and limousine or VIP bus transport to the aircraft.

Many guests come from the Gulf states, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, as well as Germany and other European markets

The lounge features 11 private suites, high-class food & beverage plus entertainment offerings ranging from a games room to a cigar lounge to in-suite shopping.

Guests, according to the company, are those that want discretion and privacy, one-to-one service and ‘five-star’ amenities.

While the service is open to users of all airlines or classes of travel, the core user group includes official state guests such as royal families, diplomats and ambassadors as well as internationally known actors and musicians. Guests also include people who are financially well off and for whom such a service is “a matter of principle”.

Vice President VIP Services & Visitors Center Thorsten Jordan says: “All in all, it’s about the personal luxury experience we offer. With our service, you travel away from the normal hustle and bustle of the terminal. We take care of all the processes for the guest, while they can prepare for their journey or meeting in our lounge. We drive them in a limousine directly to the plane shortly before departure.”

The look of luxury: Some of the suites at the Pier B lounge today

Today, many of Frankfurt Airport’s VIP guests come from Europe, but not exclusively. The Gulf States, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are well represented. Key destinations include Berlin (domestic business travel), the Gulf States and Russia, as well as leisure hubs from Majorca to the Maldives.

The big project for 2022 is the building and opening of a second lounge, slated for this Summer, close to Pier A (also in T1). For guests, the space is akin to having their own terminal, with a special access point for their vehicles.

The new lounge will feature many of the same services as in B Non-Schengen, with five private suites and two salons.

The current plan is that travellers arriving and departing will use the new 1,500sq m lounge, with transit travellers using the VIP Service taken to the existing Pier B facilities.

VIP Services & Visitors Center Head of Reservation and Sales Verina Zimmermann adds: “The new lounge is very private, exclusive and discreet. Really it is its own terminal. What we want is that the guest feels comfortable and has the feeling of coming home.”

Around 35,000 travellers a year use the service, a figure that Frankfurt Airport VIP Services aims to increase in future with the new lounge. Efforts to boost the user base will lean on ramped-up marketing, the development of a dedicated website to process orders alongside an expected level of demand for more bespoke, private services from some travellers.

Frankfurt Airport VIP Services has its own vehicle fleet; below, conference facilities at the lounge

Jordan says: “We want to communicate via omnichannel. On the one hand, we already have a very well-functioning word-of-mouth spread and many of our regular customers recommend us. But we also want to attract large companies as customers, as well as travel agencies and the luxury industry in general. We will go to trade fairs, present our service in person at events, but we are also thinking about new channels in the social media sector. We also want to develop a customer loyalty programme that will make it even more attractive to become a regular guest with us.”

Digitalising of services is one platform on which Frankfurt Airport VIP Services will build, but it can only be one part of the engagement with travellers.

“We also know that our service in particular is appreciated because of the individual and personal advice,” notes Zimmermann. “That is what makes us special and is an important part of our self-image. It is why, as of now, we will only ever see the digital part as a supplement. We can only reach certain target groups if we also provide the booking digitally.”

Beyond this, there is the opportunity for partnerships, sponsorships and events that can enhance the journey for VIP travellers, while also adding value for brand and retail partners and for Frankfurt Airport.

With the density of high net worth individuals, these services offers access to shoppers with strong purchasing power. Sponsors can partner to have their products and experiences promoted or launched to a select audience in ways that resonate with those customers.

The luxury facilities present an alluring opportunity for brand showcases and sponsorships, which VIP Services aims to leverage

That showcase is a tantalising prospect for luxury goods houses from fashion to beauty to wines & spirits. It’s one that Frankfurt Airport VIP Services has begun to explore, albeit to date in a limited way, including via a first visit to TFWA World Exhibition last October.

Jordan says: “We already work with many of the shops. They come to the lounge when they have the possibility to sell their goods to our customers. We also have customers that we accompany to the shops should they be interested in shopping. We also have high-quality showcases in our lounges. Here, brands can display their goods, which should then also be available for purchase in the lounge.”

As part of that process, Blueprint, via Partner Thomas Henningsen, has helped to bring retailers together with the VIP Services team.

Zimmermann adds: “There is also the idea that luxury brands can bind their customers to them with a free lounge visit (handling), for which the retailer would then pay. We could also imagine some sponsoring options, either for a specific event in our premises or even the temporary renaming of suites, the smoking lounge or similar. We are currently very open to different ideas and are discussing with many partners how a cooperation could look.”

The new lounge in Pier A will also be accessible from landside, making it logistically easier than hosting airside events can be at airports.

In many ways the privileged services business can represent a new chapter in the story of airports, allowing travel hubs to create fresh excitement about the environment, via the lounge. Hospitality can be a vital part of differentiating the channel, boosting its reputation for positive experiences.

“This is especially important for us,” says Jordan. “We stand out for service and quality of stay and want to be excellent hosts. We compare ourselves to a five-star hotel, only at the airport, and that includes the entire process from kerb to gate. Travelling through and with us remains in the memory and should be a real VIP moment.”

*This article first appeared in The Moodie Davitt eZine. Click here for access.

Note: The Moodie Davitt Report recently launched a publication titled Airport Consumer Experience, in association with Airport Dimensions, dedicated to airport guest services and experiences.

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