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IT Last modified on November 10, 2014

The new dynamic

Advancements in airport technology can redefine the passenger experience and drive airport revenues, write Olivier Houri and Franco Amalfi.

Information technology is the great enabler that drives operational efficiency, improves the passenger experience and can ultimately prove to be an expert revenue generator.

When it comes to passengers, nothing makes them happier than being kept up-to-date with real-time information, short queues and rapid processing times at airports, which ultimately give them more time to explore a gateway’s shops and restaurants!

Because of this, the importance of new technology cannot be overstated. If airports are able to identify individual passengers and develop a clearer understanding of their needs and attitudes before they even arrive at the airport, average revenue per passenger can be significantly increased.

It is especially critical that airports embrace new technologies, particularly around infrastructure, social/mobile engagement and predictive analytics if they are to improve the passenger experience and ultimately drive revenue growth.


Infrastructure support

Mature airports run hundreds of disparate systems and applications that include a number of outdated legacy networks that were not designed to support the modern traffic and operations in place today. 

In a 2013 survey, IATA stated that 69% of airport leaders named a lack of integration between disparate systems as one of the top two barriers to improving customer engagement. 

Communication lines are often running at less than 1GB per second, so real-time information sharing and decision-making suffer with major delays due to the lack of integration between internal airport systems and partners. 

What’s worse, region-specific requirements can often serve as a roadblock for airports that are regularly patronised and sustained by global travellers. For instance, one major Chinese airport requires a Chinese mobile phone number to access the Internet, leaving visiting passengers in the dark. 

The resulting complexity creates inefficiencies, increases costs and makes it difficult to scale and meet demands. Airports need to keep cabling infrastructure up to date to uphold the exponential increase in data and applications being used in real-time.

In addition to the underlying infrastructure, Wi-Fi is no longer simply a perk at airports but a customer necessity. Passengers – especially millennials – expect access to free Wi-Fi throughout the facility so they can stay connected and receive alerts for changes to their flight or travel plans. 

This way, they can maximise their time at the airport, accessing their mobile devices for work or personal use as well as taking advantage of retail and dining establishments. 

It’s not as simple as just providing free Wi-Fi, either. Free Wi-Fi is only beneficial if the network has the bandwidth to handle the millions of travellers in airports each day. 

As well as keeping customers and tenants informed, Wi-Fi can also be used for marketing initiatives – collecting customer data and pushing location-based notifications or offers. Free Wi-Fi is a first step, but upgrading bandwidth will provide the most opportunities for airports to connect with passengers.

However, creating a seamless and more personalised experience can’t be done in isolation. Airport executives need to work closely with airlines, service providers and other airport associates as part of a co-ordinated effort to better engage with passengers to provide more timely and personalised services that digitally savvy consumers have come to expect. 

Ultimately, organisations will be more successful if they can tap into the collective intelligence of the entire airport ecosystem to evolve their business model.


Social and mobile connectivity

Social media and mobility will bring the next wave of benefits
of providing improved customer service in the airport journey.
The millennial generation is at the forefront of this surging mobile technology use. 

Raised in a digital age, they account for 76% of all smartphone users and comprise a significant portion of the estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide using mobile apps. 

Millennials are savvy online comparison shoppers and highly vocal in social media about their product and service preferences and experiences. As a result, their influence has gained a prominent role in the development of airports’ business strategies. 

Airlines have been responding to the surge in mobile adoption with mobile boarding passes, frequent flyer and other mobile-based applications to deliver greater convenience and service. 

To continue to successfully engage these customers, organisations must develop or acquire the expertise to build a robust, reliable digital network and related services. 

The challenge is to roll out capabilities that support mobility as quickly and effectively as possible to generate new sources of revenue and reduce operational costs. Embedding such mobile capabilities is vital given the need to react quickly and behind the scenes to any operational irregularities that could impact passengers.

Social media platforms give airports and airlines a direct line to passengers in real-time. At one US airport, Twitter was used to monitor crowd management and emergency situations. 

A passenger who saw a young girl choking was able to get medical attention by tweeting out her location and the need for a doctor more quickly than the airport itself could summon its emergency response team. 

By monitoring and responding to social media, airports can leverage the alerts and concerns of passengers to respond faster and better serve their needs.


Predictive analytics

Airports that take steps to increase their bandwidth and Internet offerings, as well as use social/mobile platforms to engage with travellers will also be privy to a wealth of passenger information that can ultimately be used to improve the passenger experience and generate revenue growth. 

In fact, predictive analytics from passenger demographic data can help airports reduce stress for air travellers at every step of their airport journey. 

There are several key areas where new technology has the potential to create better efficiencies for travellers, including:

•Pre-departure: Airports can offer mobile alerts to passengers before they leave for the airport, offering suggested parking to help reduce time spent searching for a spot and facilitate faster check-in. 

•Check-in: Technological advances in at-home baggage tag printing facilitate a speedier process at check-in, in addition to self-service kiosks and baggage drops that offer shorter lines.

•Screening: By assessing peak times for crowds augmented by real-time data, staff can expedite passage through security checkpoints by ensuring appropriate staffing, allowing more dwell time for passengers at retail and dining establishments.

•Security: Intelligent surveillance systems can connect personnel to programmes that highlight anomalies and automatically alert staff when a possible incident is identified so that it can be proactively addressed rather than reactively dealt with.

•Boarding: Self-boarding at the gate has the potential to reduce the time spent waiting there, allowing passengers to spend more time patronising retail and dining outlets. 

•Retail deals: Customer data can be used to help draw passengers into stores. By looking at where passengers shop, airports and retailers can employ targeted marketing to send customers personalised discounts for their favourite stores in the terminal.

So far, passengers have shown a willingness to help airports transform how they collect and use data: the latest Unisys Security Index survey found there is strong public support for expanded use of biometrics to confirm the identities of passengers as they board a flight. 

Although it goes without saying, as airports collect more customer data they must be vigilant in protecting and securing the personal information they receive.

These myriad challenges come down to leveraging technical, physical and employee assets to create a consistently more responsive and passenger-centric organisation. 

By recognising and improving IT infrastructure, social/mobile connectivity and predictive analytics capabilities, airports can launch into the future and generate new sources of revenue.

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