What do Mid East airlines pack in their amenity kits?

Amenity bags have never looked so good as airlines step up their game.
ANALYSIS, Aviation

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The premium-class amenity bag has long been a prized possession for passengers. For the airline, the bags provide a continuation of the carrier’s brand and a reward to its passengers for their loyalty. But going one step further, today’s amenity kits have also become lucrative little earners as cosmetic companies fight to place their products in the highly marketable bags.

But what is it about the amenity bag that makes it so marketable? “Airline brands are highly competitive and constantly strive to differentiate themselves and earn customer loyalty,” says Sunil John, CEO of Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller. “Like good hotels, good airlines know that often it is the small things that make the difference, particularly for customers at the higher end who are not choosing a travel partner based on cost alone.”

In the battle to win passengers’ loyalty and trust, amenity kits symbolise the personal and direct message of an airline to its premium customer. “The impression it leaves – based on the quality and range of products – makes a significant brand impact, and airlines have never been more conscious of this,” he emphasises.

To the individual premium customer, an amenity kit is infact much more than just a bag of goodies but part of the whole on-board experience. “It is an essential tool to impart the airline’s brand message beyond the flight as it goes with them once the journey is over,” says John.

 Many of the leading global airlines, such as British Airways, have long recognised the marketing potential of the amenity bag and taken active measures to boost their offering. “Our amenity kits are a distinct part of the overall on-board experience and allow us to give customers a bit more comfort when they fly with us,” says Seth Keida, British Airways’ marketing manager for the Middle East. “They are also a reminder of the journey passengers have taken because many people keep them for future use.”

The British carrier launched its newest in-flight bag to coincide with its new ‘First’ cabin in 2009. Designed by British designer Anya Hindmarch, the amenity kit is encased in a Gladstone style bag embellished with the original ‘To Fly, To Serve’ coat of arms which featured on the airline’s tailfins between 1984 and 1997. “The design of the bag is simple and elegant, much in line with our First cabin. It provides customers with a classic British, understated design,” says Keida. “Well-known brands are contained within the bags, including REN and D.R. Harris cosmetic products – covering a range of useful toiletries and products.”

British Airways investment appears to have paid off as the airline scooped not only the prestigious TravelPlus Gold award for the Most Innovative Bag Design, but also the Bronze award for First-Class Unisex Kit last year. “Over the years we have had several styles of amenity kits that our customers have appreciated and are always looking at ways that we can improve the on-board customer experience,” says Keida. “The amenity kit is one of the important details that we continuously look at, much like the design of the china or cutlery we use on board.”

For the Middle East’s leading airlines, being associated with luxury has always been a key component of the brand image and this is reflected heavily in their amenity bags. For these airlines, John points out, quality and luxury speak volumes. “Well-known and high-end brands lift the customers’ emotional well-being and instil a feeling of being pampered and above all, valued,” he explains. “Wouldn’t you feel special knowing that a very expensive cosmetic or perfume brand is part of your kit? Or that the kit itself is a designer item? As a premium passenger, you expect the best, and it’s all in the details.”

Just last year, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways announced it would be teaming up with Swarovski to design its fashionable black cosmetic bag encrusted with crystals, to be made progressively available across its First-Class long-haul network. Neighbouring airline Emirates has been going even further. “An Emirates’ customer has come to expect a very high-end product that will meet their travel needs on-board as well as during extended stays away from home,” says Robin Padgett, vice president for aircraft catering and in-flight services at the airline. “Our amenity bags embody our overall philosophy on flying and customer service in that they must be luxurious and generous. This means offering only the very best.” The bags in First-Class are made from either Italian leather or brown suede style fabric, with its contents ‘carefully hand-picked’. In particular, Emirates has exclusive use of Bvlgari’s Thé Rouge (Red Tea) products and its kits contain a range of toiletries, perfumes and other amenities. “For us, the amenity bag remains a distinctive and unique symbol reflecting our identity values and appreciation of the passenger’s loyalty through added comfort,” says Padgett. “The guiding intention is to ensure that our customers not only receive a luxurious product but it should be immensely practical so that can be used anywhere on Emirates network.”

Emirates’ current kit was first introduced in 2007 but Padgett is quick to point out that the airline has regularly refreshed the products inside to ensure that it remains in line with its customers’ high expectations. Additionally, the carrier is hoping to further impress with the launch of its ‘new look kitbag’ in the very near future.

The race to have the best amenity kit appears to be capturing the imagination of some of other airlines in the Middle East - keen to up the ante when it comes to their bags. This year saw Oman Air collecting accolades for its amenity bag in the categories of ‘Best First-Class Female Amenity Bag’ and the ‘Best Business Class Unisex Amenity Bag’. The airline was also highly commended in the ‘Best First-Class Male Amenity Bag’ category. “We pride ourselves in offering the very best on-board services and our amenity bags reflect this,” says Wayne Pearce, chief executive officer for Oman Air. “They contain everything the premium traveller needs to ensure they arrive at their destination relaxed, refreshed and revitalised.” In reflection of the airline’s cultural heritage, the bags include a range of luxurious skin care products from the renowned Omani perfumery Amouage. “We are proud to offer all our customers the very best in choice to further enhance Oman Air’s reputation as a leading airline,” adds Pearce.

Not to be left behind, Bahrain’s national carrier Gulf Air has also been eager to promote its latest First-Class amenity offering. “Our bags act as a useful and pleasant reminder for the passenger of their Gulf Air experience,” says Marcus Bernhardt, chief services officer at the airline. “Ultimately, a collectible such as an amenity bag provides strong brand recognition and helps us to promote customer loyalty.” On a practical level, Bernhardt believes that the amenity kits first role should be to ensure that passengers’ needs are catered for throughout the flight. “Airlines must strive to strike the ideal balance between functionality aesthetics and indulgence with their amenity kits, whilst enhancing the passenger experience,” he advises.

Gulf Air has plans to introduce further enhancements to its existing amenity bags by expanding and modifying the selection and choice of their contents – including the introduction of gender-specific bags in line with those already on offer from Emirates and Etihad. “Surveys have shown that men and women differ in their requirement, expectation and perception of amenity bags,” says Bernhardt. “Women tend to focus on the bag itself – reusing it for their own personal supplies which are generally brought on-board with them while men will more readily utilise complimentary amenities provided within the kit.” Gulf Air is also looking to introduce a variety of new products aimed at continued passenger well-being in the air, ranging from aromatherapy items to replenishing liquids.

The decision of which brand of such products has more recently become a much more complicated matter due to the enormous marketing benefits of the amenity bag going much further than just the airline itself. “If your brand is in the amenity kit of premium passengers, you have direct and immediate access to high-end customers for product and brand sampling,” says John. “Brand awareness is raised if you’re a new high-end product, or reiterated in the case of more established brands.” British Airways, for example, has been instrumental in promoting the rise of now well-known British beauty product manufacturer Molton Brown – whose in-flight business-class kits were replaced with Elemis products in 2007 after a highly profitable six-year agreement. Partnerships between airlines and cosmetic companies have further potential to rise well beyond amenity kits alone. The deal with Elemis, for example, has not only helped to propel the company’s products into the spotlight, but included Elemis taking over the operation of eight of British Airways’ strategically-located airport spas. “Companies may use the opportunity to target new markets having built a reputation in some geographies and not others, or may use the kit as an opportunity to promote hero products with their chosen demographic,” says John. “Remember that your brand at that particular moment is often essential to the passenger. You create an immediate bond with your target audience who relies on your product while on-board.”

The partnerships between cosmetic companies and airlines with a similar brand message to sell, whether British Airways with Elemis, Emirates’ long-term relationship with luxury fashion and beauty house Bvlgari or Etihad’s budding one with Swarksovki, clearly reflect co-branding at its most powerful – with huge dividends for both parties. It is this enormous value as both a passenger loyalty-winner and a revenue-generator that has led to the rising importance of amenity bags for today’s airlines.

But exactly how far will airlines take the revenue-generating potential of the little kits? There are rumours that it won’t be long before cash-strapped airlines turn to selling the bags to their economy-class passengers in a bid to raise further revenue. “Amenity kits are provided to premium passengers only, and this is what makes it special. But this would not inhibit the sale of the kits to aspirational passengers, in the same way that premium economy was developed to fill the gap between business and economy,” says John. “However, the price point is all important in this equation. If you get this right, it potentially makes sense as a revenue generator for both airline and beauty brand.” Although many airlines deny that the bags will be sold in this way, First-Class passengers at least can look forward to the best of amenity kits in the future.

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