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For passengers jetting off on holiday or for business, there is nothing more infuriating than getting to the airport and being faced with delayed flights, queues at the security screening area, and the inability of the airline or airport to communicate updated information. As a result, there is a constant drive for achieving a seamless and engaged passenger journey and experience.

This is where technology has been stepping in and easing the burden for airport operations, ultimately changing the face of airports as we know them. In particular, mobile technology has been cited in the 2014 SITA Airport IT trends study as an area that has seen increasing focus and development as airports, airlines and retailers look to how they can improve the customer experience, the quality of the interaction, while simultaneously increasing efficiency and driving revenue. So how can the players in this ecosystem capitalize on new mobile technologies to drive these changes further?

Multichannel communication

When thinking about engaging with passengers and users via mobile devices, it is easy to get caught up with trying to find the newest and most show-stopping way to engage with them, but have you stopped to think about whether the contact strategy being used is relevant? To see a boost in mobile engagement it is important not only for it to take a multichannel approach, but also to use the appropriate channel depending on the type of communication that is being sent. For example, it may be more fitting for the airline operator to send ticket confirmations to passengers via email; send flight updates on whether it is delayed or canceled through the more immediate channel of SMS; and use in-app push notifications to inform passengers boarding has commenced and provide departure gate information. While using the most relevant and appropriate communication channels is vital for adoption, it can be achievable only when it is a part of an end-to-end contact strategy with one supplier that can execute these messages across multichannel options.

Moreover, while it is important to offer the right communication at the right time and through the most appropriate channel, one aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is not building a contact strategy that is dependent on the user having a smartphone. Although recent reports from eMarketer show smartphone uptake is continuing to rise, with 1.76 billion people expected to own one by the end of 2014, the same cannot be said for developing regions. Take for example Africa, where it has been reported by IDC that smartphone penetration is just 18% of the overall African cell phone market.

Therefore, to build a successful customer experience strategy, businesses shouldn’t just focus on developing a mobile app, which as a market itself is not necessarily mature enough to attract passengers in large numbers. There needs to be a good mix and a service that is multichannel, which can be accessed by all, and develops as technology and market penetration evolves.

Right: More passengers are choosing to carry their boarding pass on a mobile device

Personalization and context

It may be an old mantra, but it holds much relevance – get to know your customer. It is all about personalization and addressing the passenger as an individual. But how do you do this? Essentially you need to profile your customer to understand their likes, dislikes, what they are doing there and their preferences. Some of this can be done by using information that is already available through their travel booking.

For example, if it is a single passenger traveling to Europe and back in one day with no hold luggage, it may be a safe bet they are traveling on business and may be interested in knowing where there is free wi-fi so they can check emails. To get additional personal insight, there needs to be integration with CRM systems so you can offer tailored incentives based on previous purchasing habits. The extent to which you can create and use this big data is endless, but the key is to ensure you are working with a provider that can seamlessly integrate into the systems crunching the data so the resulting message is simple and effective.

Personalization in the airport environment can take two forms – through the service process and through marketing opportunities. In the first case, personalizing the passengers’ experience with the use of service tools, from the moment they book their travel to the moment they step onto the aircraft, will increase the experience and satisfaction of the passenger. This could take the form of e-tickets, mobile check-in, boarding passes, car parking options, through to live status updates and baggage notifications – all designed to make the traveling experience more pleasurable.

The second possibility is an opportunity for airports, airlines and even retailers to generate ancillary revenue through highly targeted marketing offers and promotions. When done correctly and through an appropriate communication channel, these offers encourage travelers to make additional purchases in the airport terminal, whether it be foreign currency, food and beverages or grabbing a new pair of sunglasses as they head off to sunnier climes.

But as with everything, the key to bringing this to life is through contextualization. Context can mean different things to different people with varying options available on which to make a choice. Some may use weather as the trigger – for example, you know this passenger is off to the Caribbean so have they remembered to purchase some sunscreen? Or perhaps they are traveling to Italy, so is there a good exchange rate on euros? Can you provide an offer based on their location, right there, right now in the airport terminal? Identifying their exact location was not an easy feat in the old days. With GSM location technology, operators were able to see a passenger was at the airport, but now it is possible to see which restaurant they are standing next to. This is where beacon technology is opening doors.

Left: Beacon technology enhances the passenger experience by providing relevant information at the right time

Creating context with beacons

The deployment of location-based technology via beacons is already being trialed in airports across the globe, including by easyJet, which said it was adopting Apple’s iBeacon technology in selected airports in the UK and Europe to test its effectiveness. But how does this location-based technology work and how can airports and other players benefit from it and see a real return on investment?

Beacon technology is a relatively new, hyper-local way of delivering location-based services that is based on contextualization. It’s not just sharing the right message to the right person, at the right time; it also needs to be in the right place. The leading proponent has to date been Apple with its iBeacon technology, which is Apple’s trademarked variant of the beacon standard. A beacon is a low energy Bluetooth chip known as Bluetooth Smart, which has its own integrated power source and emits a 2.4GHz signal that communicates with a smartphone to pinpoint the user’s position to within 200ft. 

Beacon technology does require a smartphone app to be installed on the user’s mobile device, which means it is powerful in communicating with audiences with whom there is an existing relationship, to build loyalty over the customer lifetime rather than in one-off engagements. The opportunity for businesses and airlines is the ability to combine the location information derived from beacons with other customer information, such as preferences and previous user behavior, to generate personalized offers and communications, enhancing the customer experience and maximizing marketing ROI.

Everyone’s a winner

Using this type of location-based technology has two real benefits. First, airlines and even the retailers within the airport terminals are able to offer contextualized and personalized offers to passengers traveling through the terminals at the right time based on their exact location. After all, a passenger is more likely to take up a two-for-one meal offer if they are standing next to the restaurant, rather than if they are at the other end of the terminal and it seems like a hassle.

For airport operations, it holds greater benefits: it can help track airport throughput and assist in making the airport and processes more efficient. Because it is possible to track passengers as they move through the airport, operators are able to see, for example, whether 20 minutes before boarding the majority of passengers are through security or how many are in the waiting area. This will substantially improve the boarding process because operators can notify passengers of the gate, that boarding has commenced, and so on, and manage the flow of people efficiently.

What’s on the horizon?

So, to paint a picture, soon passengers will be able to arrive at the airport and their mobile device will become their travel assistant. It feeds them vital travel info and suggests other information of interest to them based on their profile and behavioral activities, for example where to eat, or checking that they have purchased their sunscreen.

The face of the airport of the future is changing and mobile technology is a major enabler in this process. In today’s society individuals want to feel exactly that – like an individual. By adding context to the personalized services offered through multichannels, it not only increases the user’s experience but also, potentially, the loyalty they have to the brand they are communicating with. It is possible to act on this now. Beacons themselves are just the enabling technology; their true power will be unlocked by developers and marketers who are coming up with innovative ways to improve the customer experience and drive customer engagement.

This article was first published in Passenger Terminal World Annual Showcase 2015

November 13, 2014

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About Author


Kirstie joined the team in early 2017 and brings writing, communications and client experience with her. Now an assistant editor, she produces content for our magazines and websites. Away from the office, you will find her blogging on her lifestyle website or searching the internet for photos of sausage dogs.

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