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IT Last modified on July 25, 2013

Making the right connections

Using social media to communicate with today’s new breed of connected traveller can enhance an airport’s image, performance and boost revenues, write David McMullen and Shubhodeep Pal.

Did you know that in February 2013, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport became the first location in the world to register a million check-ins? These were not passengers checking-in for their flight, but ‘checking-in’ on Foursquare, a popular location based social network.

Every time a person ‘checks-in’ on Foursquare, he announces his location to his hundreds of connections on social media. That is also a huge number of people literally telling the airport, “Look, we’re here. What do you have for us?”

Why the ‘connected traveller’ matters

Our world today is more connected than ever before. According to Google, 80% of travellers today plan their trips online and half of all passengers use mobile devices to access travel information.

Moreover, they share their experiences and reviews on the go too. Indeed, TripAdvisor says that 91% of travellers post pictures of vacations, 57% post status updates and 34% check-in while travelling.

In fact, 75% of business travellers and frequent flyers carry smartphones today and, just as many of them log-on to airport Wi-Fi when it is available for free. Most of them check for flight information, while others check for security wait times.

While airlines have already bought into this new paradigm, it is arguable that it took the better part of the 21st century for airport executives to buy into the true need for airport marketing.

Now that many airports have embraced the need to connect with passengers and market their services better, we are seeing increased adoption of a new type of marketing powered by social media.

In fact, the recent ACI Europe digital report shared that 77% percent of European passengers are already passing through a social media enabled airport. Certainly, the adoption is there. But what about results?



Opportunities for airports on social media

Social media has become a compelling marketing platform for airports since it is easy, and cheap, to engage travellers, learn their preferences and build advocacy.

Eindhoven Airport’s latest Facebook VIP programme offers physical benefits such as free parking, food and fast-track security and immigration to a number of Facebook fans each month in an effort to create social advocates and generate awareness for their facilities.

Eli Lejeune, the Dutch airport’s marketing manager, says: “Facebook is an important way for us to stay in touch with our guests. Normally these passengers are in touch with airlines, since the ‘deal’ is between them. For us it’s important to know more about these passengers, to optimise our product and signal other wishes.

“Through Facebook this can be done in an interactive and an easy going way. That way we can build a relationship with them and stay in touch 365 days a year.”

Through social media, airports also have the opportunity to turn a negative customer experience into a positive, through proactive customer service. After all, how many other brands have customers fully immersed for several hours at a time?

Edinburgh Airport in the UK has been very proactive with 24/7 Twitter and Facebook customer support, updating passengers of delays. Manchester Airport even has a 24/7 flight board built into its Twitter stream. Passengers can send a private message to the account with the word ‘Flight’ and their flight number to receive live updates on the status of their flights.

The goodwill resulting from this simple, but effective transaction, is very likely to result in a positive personal recommendation or review, which often spreads.

Most importantly, in times of crisis, airports have realised the benefits social media can offer by opening platforms where information can be instantly shared with a large audience, who, in turn, often spread it further.

As a result, many airports have successfully used social media to disseminate timely updates during severe weather, and even during unpredictable natural occurrences such as the Icelandic ash-cloud or even a freak wheels-up landing that Warsaw Chopin faced, during the LOT B767 incident.

Airports have understood how to use social media in crisis, not only as a prevention of a negative – but as the creation of a positive.

How airports are currently using social media

Admittedly, many airports across the world have taken cognisance of these factors and have responded accordingly by building up their social media presence.

In a global study conducted by SimpliFlying last year with 55 of the most ‘socially-active’ airports, we unearthed some fascinating statistics. Some of the key findings are shown in the infographic above.

Increasing revenue opportunities

While brand engagement and customer service score high with airports in engaging the connected traveller, revenue opportunities are growing as well, with already over 35% of airports are looking to drive revenues from social media.

A recent survey from NCR revealed that while 70% of travellers in the UK had purchased items from airport retailers, 42% of them would be more likely to purchase if they received a coupon on their mobile phone. This shows the potential for targeted promotions.

Recently, Abu Dhabi International Airport sent out a tweet promoting the premium lounge during off-peak hours, and that resulted in over 10 people paying to use the lounge in the middle of the night!

All of that is additional revenue. Manchester Airport has partnered with cafes, to offer discounts on Twitter.

Though, few airports have gone as far as London Gatwick when it comes to driving retail from the connected traveller. They recently partnered with Tesco to offer virtual shopping to passengers.

As a result, passengers at Gatwick’s North Terminal could scan up to 80 barcodes for products pictured on the virtual fridges and have them delivered to their homes up to three weeks later.

Following in Gatwick’s footsteps, Delhi International Airport has recently inaugurated a similar initiative. It has partnered HomeShop18, India’s leading virtual retailer, to introduce a ‘Virtual Shopping Wall’ called ‘Scan N Shop’ at the airport.

Given the variety of features, wide user-base and targeting opportunities social platforms offer, much more can be done. Apart from ‘convenience marketing’ at Gatwick and Delhi, there are a number of ways in which airports can increase retail opportunities.


Cult relationship management to drive revenues

Another avenue for airports to drive revenue is through targeting the connected travellers better. Those million people who checked-in at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta are leaving digital breadcrumbs about their preferences – all accessible publicly.

Airports can find out where they like to shop, eat, and even which brands they like. Traditionally, airports have not had customer relationship management (CRM) systems, but through this information left online, segmentation can be profitable.

Facebook offers surprisingly precise targeting to a large user-base, which can be sliced and diced in multiple ways. For instance, an airport marketer for Singapore Changi could create very specific offers to promote retail to females aged 18-25, who are in long-distance relationships, who have mentioned Tiger Airways.

Retail offerings can be made for pre-paid SIM cards to such groups. Once a specific group is targeted, a customised offer can be easily created.

Moreover, special privileges can be offered to those travelling most frequently through an airport, and announcing their presence online. For instance, a Foursquare Mayor (someone who has the highest number of check-ins at a location) of an airport served by Air New Zealand, gets free lounge access regardless of the class he is flying.

Surely, the first thing he’d do once inside the lounge is to check-in and share his experience. This would potentially drive his ‘friends’ to try out the lounge the next time they fly, and perhaps even pay for the use.

In the age of the connected traveller, CRM is cult relationship management, and thoughtful segmentation and targeting can lead to revenue gains.

Mobile and free Wi-Fi is critical

Leading airports, like Helsinki, report that Wi-Fi usage has grown 30 times since they started offering it fort free. At Toronto Pearson, it grew 10 times. And, most passengers are accessing the airport Wi-Fi using mobile phones these days. Hence, the case for an airport mobile app is very strong. And lots of airports are looking to drive revenues from these apps too.

The Copenhagen Airport app has an augmented-reality feature that allows anyone to view and review retail outlets, as they hold up their phone and walk down the terminal.

Las Vegas–McCarran’s wayfinding app points out the nearest slot machines for travellers to occupy. The Singapore Changi app doles out offers from nearby retailers. All of them, looking
to drive sales.

Ultimately, airports must remember – the connected traveller is here, and they need to adapt fast.

They first need to listen to where their customers are ‘talking’ online about them, then segment them and then create a strategy to drive key goals like customer service and revenue.

After all, tweeting without a strategy, is just typing!

About the authors

David McMullen (vice president, airports) and Shubhodeep Pal (head of operations and innovation) both work for Singapore-based aviation marketing consultancy SimpliFlying.

Visit www.simpliflying.com for more information.

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