Travellers are being secretly enticed into spending money at Britain’s biggest airport by so-called Passenger Ambassadors, who are supposed to be there to help people find their way through the terminals.
An undercover investigation into the ambassadors at Heathrow has revealed that they are paid to promote special offers and promotions across the airport.
They are set targets of up to £4,000 worth of sales a day, earned by directing passengers into shops – rented by brands that include Burberry, Cartier and Prada – and are paid bonuses for hitting the targets.
An undercover investigation into the ambassadors at Heathrow has revealed that they are paid to promote special offers and promotions across the airport
Heathrow employs about 250 ambassadors, who wear distinctive purple uniforms and assist travellers once through security.
‘Whether you’re looking for flight information, directions or any kind of help with your journey, our team will get you quickly on your way,’ the airport says of the ambassadors on its website. But Heathrow does not make it clear that they are also under orders to persuade travellers to spend money.
The most successful claim to generate £10,000 in sales a day.
Heathrow employs about 250 ambassadors, who wear distinctive purple uniforms and assist travellers once through security
When an undercover reporter got a job as a passenger ambassador, the job description said: ‘The majority of the role will involve interacting with passengers, persuading them to shop if they had not planned to, or encouraging them to spend more by talking to them about offers and promotions.’
It added: ‘The average spend per passenger must go up as a result of your presence on the terminal floor.’
In secret footage recorded for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, an ambassador explains that when a traveller spends, the ambassador finds out how much from the shop assistant and logs the transaction on to a handheld terminal.
Some ambassadors said they targeted Chinese travellers because they were likely to spend more.
Helen Dewdney, a consumer champion who runs The Complaining Cow website, says: ‘Heathrow is not breaking any laws, but I do think it is underhand.’
And Gorkan Ahmetoglu, lecturer in psychology at University College London, said: ‘Consumers are far more likely to let their guard down when they are dealing with someone they think is there to help them, rather than to sell to them.’
It is in the interests of Heathrow to boost sales at retail outlets because the airport, as the landlord, receives its rent not as a set fee, but as a cut of the shops’ turnover or profit.
Heathrow’s retail division now makes up nearly a quarter of its revenues.
A spokesman for Heathrow said: ‘We provide fantastic restaurants and stores in order to offset the cost of running the airport, which keeps the cost of air fares down. Passenger ambassadors are an important part of our business and we expect the team to put the needs of passengers first.’
Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Airports is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 8pm.