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MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Last modified on June 2, 2013

Smart thinking

Airport World reviews SITA’s Flying Into The Future report on IT innovation in the air transport industry.

New technology will continue to have a significant impact on the way we travel over the next decade, with IT innovation in the industry fuelled by airports, airlines and passengers.

According to SITA’s new Flying into the Future report, over the next three years, the industry will see a major transformation in the way passengers buy travel services and use self-service technology along their journey.

In addition, these journeys will take place in a fully mobile and social environment with airlines and airports intelligently using vast quantities of data to deliver real service and operational improvements.

Nigel Pickford, director of market insight for SITA, says: “Information technology has already had a major influence on air travel, and with the number of global travellers expected to double by 2030, it will continue to lead the way for the industry.

“Our survey analysis shows four major IT trends that will shape the entire travel experience, from how we book flights to how we interact with airlines and airports during the journey, to the kinds of services we expect.”

Based on the findings of its four annual industry research initiatives – the Airline IT Trends Survey, Airport IT Trends Survey 2012; Passenger Self-Service Survey; and Baggage Report – SITA claims that four major trends which will shape the future of global air travel are:

1. The way passengers buy travel will change

By 2015, both airlines and airports expect the web and the mobile phone to be the top two sales channels. Passengers are asking for a more personalised buying experience, and the industry is responding. For example, Alaska Airlines is one of several airlines with a travel app that alerts fliers to airfare deals from their hometowns and to cities where their friends live.

 2. Passengers will take more control

By 2015, 90% of airlines will offer mobile check-in – up from 50% today.

Passengers will use 2D boarding passes or contactless technology such as Near Field Communications (NFC) on their phones, at different stages of their journey, such as at boarding gates, fast-track security zones and to access premium passenger lounges.

Japan Airline’s Touch & Go Android app will allow passengers to pass through boarding gates using their NFC-enabled phones. France’s Toulouse-Blagnac Airport is piloting a similar service.

 3. Customer services will become more mobile and social

By 2015, nine out of ten airlines and airports will provide flight updates using smartphone apps. The industry is also exploring apps to improve the customer experience.

At Tokyo Narita Airport in Japan, roaming service employees personalise the customer experience by using iPads to provide airport, flight and hotel information to passengers.

In addition, Edinburgh Airport is one of several airports with apps that help passengers plan their journeys to and from the airport, track their flights, access terminal maps and reserve parking spots before they arrive.

4. The passenger experience will improve thanks to better business intelligence

By 2015, more than 80% of airports and airlines will invest in business intelligence (BI) solutions.

Most will focus on improving customer service and satisfaction, often through personalised services. For example, one European airline, Vueling, researches customers via social media in an effort to understand them better.

It then integrates this information into their BI programs to improve loyalty.

Pickford adds: “Passenger needs and preferences are changing. Today’s passengers want more control throughout their journey.

“They expect transformation in both the kinds of services airlines and airports offer, and the way they communicate with them.

“At the same time, the industry is investing in business intelligence solutions and collaborating more to increase operational efficiency and improve customer service and loyalty.”



Smartphones and social media

The findings should come as little surprise to industry leaders as aviation has historically been quick to adopt new technology and embrace new ways of doing business.

In 2012, three-quarters of the people interviewed for SITA’s Passenger Self-Service Survey had booked their travel online, either directly or via online travel agents.

The survey also discovered that while only 3% of passengers purchased airline tickets via smartphone apps and social media, there is convincing evidence that buying via these emerging channels will increase in importance.

Indeed, the smartphone has rapidly become the must-have travel accessory, says SITA, with ownership among airline passengers soaring from just 28% in 2010 to 70% in 2012.

It would appear that air travellers are also more comfortable than most using social media – 62% of passengers interviewed for the self-service study are active on social media, a higher rate than recorded for the general population in most regions.

And SITA says that it is worth noting that social media will be one of the major sales channels for 13% of airlines and 14% of airports, predicting that kiosks will be an important sales platform for 20% of airports, but only 6% of airlines.

Mobile apps

Based on IT trends research, SITA suggests that there is a strong desire among both airlines and airports to enable revenue generation via smartphone apps. Already, 44% of airlines enable ticket sales via apps and many more are gearing up, with 89% expecting to offer mobile booking by the end of 2015.

Airports have been much slower off the mark, but 71% plan to be selling services direct to passengers via apps three years down the line.

For today’s travellers, functionality such as flight status updates that take the stress out of their journey, are the highest priority for mobile services, says SITA.

It adds that while there is interest in mobile promotions and retail offers, only 57% of those interviewed in the Passenger Self-Service Survey are currently open to receiving mobile advertising from their travel suppliers. However, that acceptance could reach 85%, if the advertising is relevant to customers’ needsSelf-service technology.

According to SITA, today’s passengers are very comfortable with self-service check-in and multi-channel interaction is commonplace. Over three quarters of respondents in the passenger self-service survey are regular or occasional users of both airport kiosks and online check-in.

However, smartphones are rapidly gaining ground, with about a third of passengers now using this channel for check-in, and airlines predict that smartphones and websites will be the two most important channels driving passenger processing beyond 2015.

This prediction is underscored by the speed with which passengers have taken to smartphones, tablets and other connected mobile devices. Travellers’ enthusiasm for smartphones currently outstrips the availability of airline apps.

Recent technology initiatives, such as the Passbook on Apple’s iOS6 operating system for the iPhone (launched in autumn 2012), flag up some of the opportunities ahead for smartphones to be used to self-process journeys. Passbook, which stores boarding passes and displays them on the iPhone lock screen when users get to the airport, is already supported by a limited number of airlines, and that support is growing.

Another technology on the horizon is using near-field communication (NFC) chips embedded in smartphones to enable passengers to simply tap and check-in or tap and board their flight. As NFC is short range and supports encryption, it will allow secure, contactless transactions that will work even when the device is powered off.

France’s Toulouse-Blagnac Airport became the world’s first to trial SIM-based NFC in a joint effort with SITA, Orange and BlackBerry during 2012. Selected passengers used the service on BlackBerry smartphones to access car parking, the boarding area, a premium passenger lounge and received immediate updates on changes to flight times, departure hall or boarding gate.


Baggage and self-boarding

SITA admits that baggage is often identified as the biggest barrier to achieving full self-service check-in, with many of the passenger self-service respondents still not using self-service check-in because they needed to check-in a bag at a counter.

However, it says self-service baggage processing gained momentum across the industry in 2012, the year even saw Denmark’s Billund Airport implement the world’s first home-printed bag tag solution, allowing international travellers to avoid queues and simply present their boarding passes and drop off their pre-tagged bags.


Final word

Pickford concludes: “Passenger needs and preferences are changing. Today’s passengers want more control throughout their journey. They expect transformation in both the kinds of services airlines and airports offer, and the way they communicate with them.

“At the same time, the industry is investing in business intelligence solutions and collaborating more to increase operational efficiency and improve customer service and loyalty.”

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