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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on September 10, 2012

Listening and learning

Airports have embraced social media with gusto in 2012. Joe Bates reviews some of the latest trends and developments.

Helsinki Airport has opened a new art gallery based on the feedback passengers, the public and followers of the Finnish gateway left on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Pictured above, the new art gallery will initially feature the ‘Random Album’ series by visual artist Bo Haglund, and ceramic ‘fantasy sculptures’ by sculptor Kim Simonsson.

The new addition is just one of 250 suggestions received by the gateway on how it can improve the Helsinki airport experience.

All have been received via its recently formed The Quality Hunters online community – founded in conjunction with Finnair – which is estimated to have a global reach of 9.6 million people.

The group has effectively snowballed from Helsinki Airport/Finnair’s October 2011 decision to hire seven Quality Hunters to travel the world and come up with suggestions for making air travel more convenient.

Helsinki Airport and Finnair have pledged to implement as many of the suggestions as possible.

“We have carefully investigated all the ideas, and the first ones to be implemented at the airport are an art gallery and a book swap,” enthuses Johanna Metsälä, customer experience manager at Helsinki Airport.

The introduction of ‘Meat-free Mondays’ – a highly popular concept designed to decrease the carbon footprint of meal services – and a handful of submissions intended to develop inflight and airport meal offerings are also currently being considered by the airport.


Digital report

Its actions shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Europe’s airports are embracing social media to forge stronger relationships with their passengers, according to recent research by ACI Europe.

Its ‘Digital Report 2012’ reveals that 77% of passengers in Europe now pass through an airport that is active on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

The report found that airports in Central Europe are particularly proactive when it comes to social media, usage increasing by a whopping 800% in the last 12 months.

It claims that a third of Europe’s airports either have, or are currently developing, a smartphone ‘app’ to put more information at the passenger’s fingertips.

The information includes different types of dynamic, ‘live’ information alongside more standard static information usually found on websites.

And the report states that 56% of airports handling more than 10mppa have an ‘app’ in development.

It also reveals that around 98.7% of Europe’s airports currently offer Internet access to their passengers, over half of which offer some form of free service.

The top five ways airports are using social media were identified as being corporate communications; crisis communications; customer service; informal relationship building; and commercial promotion.

Exactly how individual airports choose to deploy their own social media efforts reflects their specific market positions and wider strategies, says the report.

ACI Europe’s director general, Olivier Jankovec, says: “These latest key figures reflect just how much more direct the relationship between the airport and the passenger has become.

“Europe’s airports are making a wide variety of information immediately available on a smartphone or similar device, empowering passengers to make their experience of the airport as informed and hassle-free as possible.

“The diverse ways that airports are engaging with passengers and developing joint-communications with airlines are a clear demonstration of how they are investing in tech to boost their competitive positions.”


Twitter king

Elsewhere in Europe, Warsaw Chopin claims to have one of the most popular airport sites on Twitter after clocking up more than 20,000 followers.

The English-language Chopin Airport’s page is used as passenger support, and at the same time, a means of contact with the airport.

“It is a very convenient communication channel. We inform passengers about what’s going on at the airport, and they post their comments and ideas. And all this in the concise, vivid form of 140 characters,” says Radosław Żuk, director of Chopin Airport’s PR Bureau.

The airport’s tweets include updates on delayed and cancelled flights, tips for travellers, news and special offers in duty-free shops, as well as tourist information about Warsaw and Poland.

“Our profile is mainly dedicated to foreigners, which is why we often recommend what to see and where to stay in Warsaw, give tips for eating out and provide information on important cultural events and the main news from Poland,” said Żuk.

Only a handful of European gateways, including Heathrow (94,000), Manchester (33,500), Gatwick (33,800) in the UK, can boast more followers on Twitter.




Flash mob sensation

A flash mob that became an internet sensation on YouTube, amassing nearly 2.8 million hits, recently earned Dubai Airports a gong at the inaugural Social Media in Travel and Tourism Awards in New York.

The video shows 55 dancers, dressed as airline staff and passengers, breaking into an energetic routine in the middle of Dubai International Airport.

The publicity stunt, which also involved Dubai Duty Free and flydubai, was orchestrated late last year to promote the DXB Connect airport ppaid MasterCard.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, said: “It is the first major international recognition for our efforts to utilise social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, which are increasingly important to connect with our customers.”

Dubai Airports won a ‘Smitty’ for best use of social media in the international airports category.

The airport operator has a fast-growing psence online, gaining more than 10,000 followers on Twitter @DubaiAirports, while its Facebook page has attracted more than 5,000 likes.


Blue tick

Another gateway to be recognised for its innovation is Gatwick, which has become the first UK airport to be listed as a trusted news source, with Twitter’s ‘blue tick’ of authority.

Twitter has also included Gatwick in its Enhanced Profile Page roll out – a new profile design, which helps brands better convey important messages to followers.

The gateway will be able to use this functionality to highlight key content in times of disruption by promoting a Tweet to the top of the airport’s timeline on the profile page, ensuring latest information and advice is easily accessible.

This will enable Gatwick to alert passengers to key Tweet content at all times, such as flight scheduling and breaking travel news.

Lindsay Baldwin, head of airport communications said: “We recognise the importance of providing accurate and timely communication – not only during times of disruption but also in responding to broader enquiries or passenger feedback.

“Twitter provides us with an immediate and effective communications platform to do just this and we thank them for their support of our efforts.”

New owners, Global Infrastructure Partners, claim to have strived to introduce a more human and personal experience for passengers since acquiring Gatwick from BAA in 2009 and, as a result, is using online social tools as a way of talking and responding to customers as they pass through the airport.

The airport runs sophisticated 24/7 Twitter customer service support, which includes the #askgatwick campaign, meaning that no matter what time of the day or night, if a passenger requires help then Gatwick can respond and, where appropriate, address it immediately.

Gatwick also claims to have been the first airport to use mobile barcodes as public information points and the first European airport to have an Instagram feed.


Airline IT trends

And finally, the latest Airline IT Trends Survey claims that mobile apps are changing the way airlines do business, permeating every step of the journey and core aspect of their operations, according to the latest Airline IT Trends Survey.

The survey reveals that a whopping 93% of airlines have mobile services for passengers as a top investment priority over the next three years, with 58% investing in major programmes.

It pdicts that the information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) spend, as a proportion of revenue, is expected to stay stable, at around 1.65% in 2012.

According to the 14th SITA/Airline Business sponsored survey, airlines are focusing IT investment in the key areas of improving passenger service, reducing the cost of business operations and revenue generation.

But the real transformation is not just in the area of sales, this year’s survey shows that airlines are using mobile apps right across the business.

By 2015, almost nine out of ten airlines plan to have the following core services available via mobile: flight search, check-in, boarding passes, ticket purchase, flight status notification, ancillary services, along with customer complaint handling and missing baggage management.

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