The next big travel destination might be the airport itself

Airports want tourists to come spend time — and money — without flights.

Put down the passport: Your next day trip could soon be all airport, no airplane.

A white woman with brown hair smiling and wearing a sunhat and a light-blue backpack; a photo of a busy airport faded in the background.

After pouring $2.8B into construction, Orlando International Airport’s Terminal C is ready to show off its new look — for a price.

The airport launched an Experience MCO visitor program that offers a trip option sans actual traveling:

  • After completing an online application, approved visitors go through standard TSA screening and present their passes.
  • The program accommodates up to 50 guests a day and includes access to Terminal C.
  • Inside, visitors can visit the terminal’s restaurants and shops, use its premium lounge, and admire its palm trees and murals.

Since the pilot program’s launch last month, 1.4k+ people have applied for passes.

Now, Experience MCO aims to attract even more foot traffic to the terminal, which has already seen 6.4m people pass through since opening in 2022.

This isn’t the first program of its kind

Pittsburgh’s airport launched its (now paused) program in 2017, and Seattle’s visitor pass program, launched in 2018, was so successful that it increased its guest capacity to 300 a day.

It’s a trend that’s likely to continue as investors eye ways to make airports more than just a point of transportation.

Plus, the Biden administration’s 2022 bipartisan infrastructure law has allocated $1B annually over five years to improve US airport infrastructure (though it’s estimated they’ll need $151B+ more).

And airports are increasingly betting…

… on the visitor experience — from high-tech security and bathrooms to striking architecture and greenery.

  • Oregon’s Portland International Airport has budgeted $1.5B to turn its main terminal into a Portland-inspired “street” with local shops and restaurants.
  • New York’s LaGuardia Airport recently finished its $8B overhaul to make the airport feel more like a luxury resort than a transit hub.

And back in Orlando, there’s even a digital “Moment Vault” where travelers can have an immersive, interactive experience.

Who even needs the plane?

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