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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on November 16, 2017

Analyse that!

Airports can transform the passenger experience with next generation analytics, writes Niels Kroese.

Although everyone travels for different reasons and in different ways, we all essentially want the same thing from air travel – a seamless, connected journey.

We dream of moving smoothly through the airport from the minute we arrive to boarding the plan, passing effortlessly through check-in and security before enjoying some stress free shopping and dining or maybe simply checking emails over the free Wi-Fi or visiting the airline lounge.

The reality, unfortunately, is often very different and, for most of us, our journey is far from a seamless experience.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, as each point along our journey presents numerous opportunities for the airport to better understand their passengers through data, and subsequently improve their airport experience.

So why in today’s hyper-connected world, are so many airport hubs still failing – or are completely unable – to join the dots?

The widespread use of beacons and other proximity sensors are, of course, already helping airports track passengers across their facilities.

But this doesn’t reveal who the passenger is, whether they’re travelling with anyone or, in fact, much else at all. In isolation, and without analytics, the value of the data is limited.

Similarly, heat map technology might help airports identify and alleviate queue congestion and bottlenecks, but if a particular passenger is frequently affected and decides to use an alternative hub as a result, the airport might never know. There’s only so far
we can go with anonymous data.

Simply put, airports need to better understand who is in their terminal. The irony is that the data exists; as the airlines know who is travelling, retailers know who is buying and the border authorities know who is leaving.

But without all stakeholders on-board to share insights – not to mention the technological, regulatory and economic challenges around it – initiatives are sometimes difficult to get off the ground. However, there are still pockets of data to exploit.

For many hubs, it’s best to start small and build from there. Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, in southern France, for example, has developed a simple but effective opt-in scheme for passengers to have each departure and retail purchase tracked via their boarding pass.

After 10 departures, the passenger is eligible for fast-track services, VIP lounges and more, driving further insight. Membership points accrue and accelerate status for the following year, prompting continued engagement.

In return the airport gets a wealth of data, and the use of back-end analytics will allow it to develop a profile of each passenger that constantly evolves over time. The airport can then use this insight to predict the future behaviour of travellers and deliver actionable insight.”

As long as the benefits are right, passengers will be willing to share their data.

And by combining this type of information with other data sources and analytics, airports can go even deeper.

Wi-Fi sensors, for instance, show when the same device is in a terminal and allow for a mass of other actionable analytics through usage, such as language preference, demographic and interests.

And although it is probably an unpopular thing to say, the data collected from cameras with facial recognition could significantly enhance an airport’s ability to build up accurate passenger profiles.

How often does passenger use the terminal, for example? How long do they spend in specific areas? What do they eat and drink? How much do they spend and what they spend it on?

Pain points are also revealed such as queuing times at check-in and security, both of which can impact on a passenger’s retail and F&B spend. Indeed, according to SITA’s research, an extra 10 minutes spent at security may reduce retail spend by as much as 30%.

With a robust analytics engine that learns as data is fed in from multiple sources, any airport vision for transformation can finally take-off.

And with global air passenger numbers expected to double to 14.6 billion by 2029, if a data-driven journey to new customer personalisation horizons isn’t part of the strategy now, expect turbulence ahead.

About the author

Niels Kroese is Unisys’ head of sales for airports & airlines across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

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