Interview: The Trends Turning Airports Into Amenities Hubs
Ty Manegold, co-founder of airport gym brand ROAM Fitness, weighs in on the travel trends pushing airports and airlines to distinguish themselves
It goes without saying that airports are not generally known for a good time. But where consumers are looking to optimize their experience of a travel destination, they also want to get more out of their time in transit.
For our Travel Debrief report and podcast, PSFK spoke to Ty Manegold, co-founder and president of airport gym and wellness center ROAM Fitness. He weighed in on the trends impacting air travel, which increasingly see a need for airports and airlines to introduce new facilities and services in order to differentiate themselves and inspire customer loyalty.
Picture a terminal where you can unwind with a yoga class, catch up on emails in a quiet lounge and have a meal delivered to your seat in the waiting area, all before catching your connecting flight—it’s right around the corner.
PSFK: What are the biggest trends you’re seeing shaping the future of travel?
Ty: The biggest trends I see are that people are trying to be more efficient with their time as well as figure out how to cut out the wasted time. What I mean by that is there’s a rise of TSA pre-checks, there’s a rise of CLEAR, of other expediting services that get people through security, and have them waste less time in that process.
The other rise that we see, which we’re clearly involved in, is the health and wellness sector and how to make travel a healthy time spent, how to improve upon the status quo right now, which is fried food and beer as your options.
We, with our company, are putting gyms into airports to try to provide healthy travelers or wellness-based travelers an alternative to those options, but we are certainly not the only ones. About 10 years ago, there were free-use yoga rooms that went into the airport, but we now see a whole bunch of other companies doing something along the same lines that we’re doing.
There is a firm called FlyFit, which is trying to open up a gym in Heathrow later this year that’s post-security. There’s another company called Yoga on the Fly, based out of Denver. They take on the yoga room, but they’ve got classes and support services.
You see other health-based options appearing that go beyond providing a free service, but actually are there in exchange for a purchase. Those are rising, as well as healthier food and beverages, and means of making that happen.
We’re also seeing in-airport delivery services so that you don’t have to search out that one healthy food and beverage provider, but that you can pull up an app and have it ordered and brought to you. It makes it way more efficient.
Could you tell us more about ROAM Fitness?
ROAM is a brand of post-security airport gyms located in the terminal. We are a fully equipped health club. We provide for day or annual memberships. We provide our users full access to the facility that includes the complimentary clothing rental program, so if you didn’t bring your clothes or shoes with you, we can outfit you, and that’s included right in the pass.
We work with Technogym on all of our cardio equipment, and accent it with a Concept2 rower. We have a dedicated yoga and stretching area with a TRX resistance system set up. We have weights and benches there as well. We have showers, which are also included in the day pass with towel service and Malin+Goetz bath products, and a variety of other complimentary grab-and-go items that you would normally see in a health club.
We also provide some items in our retail lineup for sale, and some prepackaged healthy food and drinks. Right now, we have one location. It’s located in the Baltimore airport in the D/E Connector, and we are looking to expand to about three more locations later this year.
How can travel brands use community—a priority for brands across industries right now—to deepen a traveler’s connection to places and people, and create a richer experience?
Community is extremely valuable and an integral part to any company’s success in almost any product or service. We’ve seen that in the fitness world forever. Gyms are another form of community. That’s why boutique-style CrossFit studios are immensely popular, because it’s really about community. We’re trying to do that same concept. It’s a little bit harder for our location, because we don’t have classes where everyone can come together, so we have to create a community that is more virtual and ad hoc-based.
But you see airlines doing that with their loyalty programs. For example, Alaska Airlines has done a phenomenal job with its MVP, MVP Gold and 75K loyalty brands. As you evolve in that process, you become part of this community. They give out luggage tags that you can stick on your bag, and you identify other folks who have reached that same level, that same status, and there’s a form of community for it.
WeWork is a great example of another company creating a service that isn’t entirely new or novel. Co-working facilities had been around before them—temporary offices had existed for a long time, but WeWork added a community feel to it, and that is one of the reasons why they’ve been so successful.
In fact, I know that WeWork is also looking at the airport world and trying to figure out how there can be an extension of its services into that realm. They’ll be stuck with same question of, how do we bring community to this place where travel really is efficient travel, and the efficient business traveler kind of has to pass up community?
Travel is so much more convenient in a solo mindset. That goes against the traditional concept of a community. It’s a paradox we’re stuck with: We know we want to keep the traveler in that single traveling mindset, because it is the most efficient. A lot of folks traveling don’t even want to talk to another individual. That’s why we’ve created our services so you can check in with just a QRC on your phone and not even have to say anything to anyone if you don’t want to, just because that’s preferred.
So how do we bring a sense of community to it? We’re trying to bring in personal training. We have newsletters that go out. We have raffles. We have referral networks. We do provide programming for community service activities. We’ll do yoga classes within the airports to try to build up awareness, and also help the wellness initiatives of airport and airline staff, but it’s certainly challenging.
Since today’s traveler is looking to make a more efficient use of their time, how are airlines and airports improving their experiences, and what can travel brands do to take it to the next level?
Thirty years ago, if you wanted to fly, you wrote to the airlines. You were given very little selection, and it was take it or leave it. Nowadays, with online third-party booking services—Expedia, Kayak, what have you—the individual is empowered to choose what airline, but more so now, which airport they fly through. That is becoming more of a reality and more of a factor that needs to be taken into consideration.
It’s why you see airports trying to diversify their offerings and really focus on passenger experience. Chicago O’Hare is notorious for always having delayed layovers, due to weather and other issues, so folks actively try to avoid that airport stop. San Francisco’s in the same boat. Individuals will say, “I don’t want to fly through there if I’m in the wrong terminal, because what am I going to do for those hours? I’d rather have a longer layover somewhere else that has these other services that I can utilize, where I can be more efficient with my time.”
That might mean enjoy a better meal or enjoy a better beer, especially if they’re on vacation and they’re in that mindset, but for others, that means going to an airport that has a lounge that they’re a part of—a priority pass lounge or their airline lounge. Or they want something that has a gym or a yoga facility in it.
Another airline that I think is doing a fantastic job of growing and offering unique services with that sense of community is JetBlue. Its T5 terminal at JFK is very innovative. It has this community feel because if you’re in that terminal, it means you are flying JetBlue. It’s very community-oriented, and they have their loyal followers for it.
If there’s the rise of more airline-centric terminals in the future, I think that that will help them retain loyalty. If there was another JetBlue terminal in San Francisco or in LAX that was branded as a JetBlue terminal, that would do a great job to secure their customer base and grow it. That being said, I don’t think it’s very realistic. It’s extremely expensive to do, and it does not allow them the ability to adjust and react to other external market factors.
Delivery services will be another development. There’s a company called Airport Sherpa that’s trying to do this, where it’s actually a group of folks inside the airport who are delivering products for you. You have to have their app. You have to be right there. There’s a whole adoption process that’s a big challenge for them, and then they have to do that at each airport.
But that concept of being efficient with your time is growing. The question right now is who’s going to be the leader in that? Is it going to be a third-party independent provider that has to go in and set this up at each and every airport? Or is it going to be airport-based where the airport authority is the one that creates the app, the delivery service and the directions, and then something comes along later as an aggregator and picks up all of the products that the airports have done?
That comes down to brand uniformity and so many other questions. The market will have to determine who’s the victor in that one.
Can you tell us what’s on the horizon for ROAM in 2018 and beyond?
I can’t name specific airports, because we don’t have signed leases, but I can tell you that we are talking with Seattle, San Francisco and Denver airports for 2018. We are increasing our partnerships with airlines. We are trying to become an extension of their own lounge rooms. We are looking to work with area gyms so that your membership with them has reciprocity with our facility.
Our main goal at the end of the day, though, is grow, grow, grow. We want to be in as many airports as possible. The biggest challenge that we have right now is just informing the consumer that an airport gym exists, that it exists in that airport and where in that airport.
Before you start filling up your calendars with conferences to spark your business innovation and personal growth this year, add CXI 2018 conference to your wish list! For its 12th year running, PSFK is hosting an intimate conference where emerging pioneers and established experts will take the stage to discuss all things innovation around the new consumer experience.
Jared is partner at Pioneer Fund, a a venture fund that pools capital and expertise from 170+ Y Combinator alumni to make diversified investments in select YC companies. He is also founder and CEO of Crowd Med, a company that has raised over $4M in venture capital to date from several top-tier Silicon Valley venture funds to solve difficult medical cases.