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We need top security and happy landings

28 May 2007
We need top security and happy landings

Airports could do a lot more to improve travellers' first impressions of Britain, says Andrew Cosslett, chief executive of hotel chain InterContinental Hotels Group

My job demands a lot of international travel and the constant use of airports. As a proud Brit, it saddens me every time I use London's Heathrow Airport and see the poorly thought-out systems and rudeness that travellers are forced to deal with.

And with 10 million of our guests going through Heathrow every year, this is also a concern for IHG.

Obviously, security has to be the number-one priority, but this has made travelling through airports a lot more difficult than it should be. From my experience of other international airports, it's obvious which of them have thought about the issues from the passenger's viewpoint.

Those that haven't are forgetting what the hotel business knows only too well: that everything you do should be seen as an opportunity to give the customer satisfying experiences and a good impression.

First impressions count, and Heathrow is the first impression many travellers get of the UK. Right now the airport isn't doing a great job in welcoming travellers to the country, and I can't see much being done to make things better.

The hotel industry has long known that well-trained staff are crucial to keeping customers happy. Our staff focus on helping customers throughout every stage of their stay in our hotels, as the customer's needs are paramount. It's a shame that Heathrow doesn't seem to be doing the same, and doesn't put the same importance on making its customers happy.

I see encouraging signs of the airlines finally embracing technology within airports to make life easier for the customer, with the increasing use of self-check-in terminals. However, I don't see the same innovative approach from the airport companies.

Why, for instance, can't I get updates on my flight status by text message or on my Blackberry, so I don't have to always be in sight of a flight information screen?

All of our airports need to focus on the customer and think about the impression they're making on visitors.

Security is clearly at the top of the agenda, but that doesn't mean customer satisfaction should be at the bottom.

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