Forget e-commerce, and welcome aboard the brave new world of ‘V’ or ‘venue commerce’, the technological platform that is allowing passengers to pre-book practically every part of their journey through the airport from parking to boarding via computers and mobile phones.
This platform can enable and empower airports to flex their own muscles and develop a brand package that entices both sun and value seekers impacted by the economic downturn to ‘come fly with me’ and think of the airport, and even the parking, as a pleasant part of the journey rather than a necessary evil.
In terms of regional airports, intense competition from other gateways and the airlines that fly from them, ultimately ensures that the battle lines are drawn around creating bespoke loyalty and added-value packages that chime with customers that are technologically sophisticated but increasingly cash and time poor.
It is not just capturing the hearts and minds of the ‘digital natives’ – the younger demographic who chose to enable their lives through their personal technology – but more about harnessing the power of the so-called ‘digital migrants’, the older demographic of silver surfers who have discovered the power of technology.
This is no overnight budget journey – it is a longer-haul to harness the imaginations of those major stakeholders through strategic investment in technology and marketing to get passengers to make the channel switch.
In the UK, airports such as Birmingham are embracing ‘venue commerce’, and the decision to go down this route already represents a resounding ‘v for victory’, as it is now arguably in the position to “reclaim the customers” that have slipped under their radar since the advent of the Internet.
The challenge for airports is that sometimes millions of people move through their terminals every day, and for many these customers have become ‘strangers on a plane’ – simply consumers whose journey starts and ends with an airline or the travel agency website, rather than the airport’s own portal.
The challenge for venue commerce is simple: to reverse this ‘terminal decline’ and allow airports to capitalise upon the missing customers – those who use the venue as a destination but bypass it completely by paying through a myriad of other channels.
It simply empowers the venue to become the trusted retailer and allows it to gain the powerful customer insight and to build loyalty by continuing to add value.
Done well, venue commerce will shorten the booking journey and improve some of the current fractured experiences endured by millions of visitors – third-party turbulence the airport ironically often gets the blame for!
For example, getting the parking – often seen as a grudge purchase – right, is a critical ingredient, because it is the customer’s first experience of the airport.
It starts and ends their holiday. Getting it wrong means they are a lost customer and they not only tell all of their friends at dinner parties, but they also share instantly with their virtual communities through the social media channels now open to them.
Up until now, the airport itself has not been an venue-commerce destination touch point for the traveller, despite the fact that it hosts the passengers, the airlines that fly to that destination, the car parks we all need to guarantee a stress-free holiday and the terminal and airside retail and hospitality units, all of which benefit from the billions of pounds spent.
Rarely has the booking or parking itself been viewed by the public as an integrated part of a door-to-door travel experience. Historically, it has been seen as a bolt on to the more glamorous venue and the travel it supports.
Now, airports such as Birmingham have developed new digital strategies to join up the journeys and build stronger relationships with their passengers and their airport partners, to engender that all-important sense of loyalty based upon positive experiences.
It has now opted to challenge the status quo to increase footfall and revenues from parking to landing home after their holiday in order to be seen as providing richer and more relevant service to its passengers.
Marketing director at Birmingham Airport, Jo Lloyd, is building a digital offering in three boxes, all of which will help the customer on their way.
From parking to take off, the airport website provides a positive experience of Birmingham Airport and its partners.
Secondly, it is about enforcing the corporate identity and reputation of the airport. And, finally, it is the simple dissemination of information either through the airport web site or the portals of its partners – so that wherever the customer looks for travel information, he or she sees a consistent shop window of information all working in real time.
The new digital world of pre-booking has transformed parking from an impersonal tarmac experience to an integrated part of the journey.
The technology now available can work in tandem with all partners to enhance the customer experience with promotions and loyalty offers to maximum-security standards and the flexibility to integrate with other systems and support the booking journey at every level.
Birmingham Airport’s hosted solution has its head in the ‘cloud’ to safely enable integration to its existing websites and business processes to reap the incremental revenue benefits of adopting a solution that no longer has to depend upon complexity and stress normally associated with a large scale IT project.
Journeys can be stressful, but they do not need to be fractured and fragmented. The digital world is allowing greater choice of destination and price and rewards us for those choices.
I have learned that changing digital consumer behaviours on behalf of large corporations wanting to re-engage the new generation of so-called ‘lost’ customers’, the battle for tarmac optimisation is now a struggle for hearts and minds.
We now live in a travel world where customers are king and where venue commerce has become the all-important king maker driving the initial experience and halting what has been viewed as ‘terminal decline.’
Marc Ive is one of the founding directors of Airport Direct Travel