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The digital airport


Templemere’s Clare Williams Fannin takes a look at how digital technology is transforming the passenger experience.

From facial recognition at passport control to high-tech baggage handling, airports have often been at the cutting-edge when it comes to the adoption of technology, and these solutions are being effectively utilised at busy travel hubs to improve efficiency for the passenger and the airport.

But beyond the practicalities of moving from A to B through a terminal, is there a place for technology when it comes to other aspects of elevating the passenger experience?

The answer is yes, according to Mignon Buckingham, CEO of travel experience and airport lounge expert Airport Dimensions. “Whether it’s using tech to book services such as parking in advance of the journey or for ordering and paying for food or retail at the terminal, the use of technology is no longer a luxury – it is fast becoming an essential part of every journey.”

Much of this shift has been prompted by dramatic changes in the needs and behaviours of travellers. In the past two years, we’ve seen significant acceleration in the use of digital technology and we’ve all become increasingly reliant on digital apps and online sites for everything from social interaction to ordering retail goods.

This trend is no less prevalent in travel, where passengers have now come to expect similar digital services as standard.

Airport Dimensions’ Airport Experience 2021 survey of 6,000 global travellers found growing demand among passengers for a spectrum of digital services they expect would improve their airport experience.

For example, 60% of passengers said they would consider ordering and collecting food and beverages using their personal digital devices. A similar 60% of respondents said they are looking for new in-app features when using an airport lounge.

At airports across the world, more and more passengers are already enjoying new digital services that enhance the guest experience. For instance, in partnership with Servy, the enterprise self-service platform for hospitality, Collinson has launched a service called Ready 2 Order, which allows lounge visitors to place contactless orders for complimentary food and drinks using their mobile phones and other digital devices.

The service provides an extra level of convenience and personalsation, as well as safety for guests and staff.

Technology is also transforming the airport retail experience, and services such as Inflyter, which allows for pre-purchase of duty free products with fast collection from airport lockers, are allowing airport shoppers to enjoy the same convenience they have become used to at home.

When the going gets tough

Digital innovations aren’t just about making the more pleasant aspects of travelling through a terminal even better, they can also be used to lessen the stress when things don’t go as planned.

Digital technology, for example, can be used to replace paper-based voucher systems to compensate passengers in the event of delays, speeding up and simplifying the process to benefit both passengers and the airport.

Indeed, a digital vouchering system from award-winning tech company iCoupon already enables airlines and ground handlers to issue digital vouchers directly to passenger boarding passes to be spent at the airport with iCoupon integrated retailers, in the event of flight delay.

In fact iCoupon can also be used in promotions, loyalty and rewards programmes, transportation and crew and retail staff meal entitlement solutions.

As well as speeding up passenger flows and simplifying airline billing, digital vouchering enables airports to improve their sustainable credentials by eliminating the need for paper vouchers.

To date, iCoupon has issued 800 million vouchers, with the company exceeding its pre-pandemic levels since July this year. CEO and chairman, Richard Bye, believes that many factors have influenced the shift towards digitalisation.

“With flight schedules impacted by the ongoing disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-vouchering has become an essential tool for ensuring passengers receive immediate compensation in line with regulations such as EU261, yet in a COVID-safe way,” he says.

“In addition, passenger attitudes evolved due to the effects of the pandemic. Consumers are demanding tangible sustainability measures, and the ability to use automated services is now assumed.”

One-stop shop

Consumers are clearly keen to embrace these new offers, but there is strong demand for an online experience that is as simple and as streamlined as possible. A total of 71% of respondents to the recent Airport Dimensions study said a single mobile app for all airport services would greatly improve their overall experience.

These demands are particularly strong among younger travellers, with nearly three quarters (74%) of Millennials calling for a single app to access a full range of digital services during their journey.

This means that airports that want to get ahead in the digital game should look to introducing a single digital ecosystem that supports a broad spectrum of operational and commercial functions.

Airport Dimensions’ e-commerce and traveller relationship management platform Connecta has been designed to bridge the digital divide between the traveller and the airport, providing a single resource to access services across the entire airport space.

Connecta enables travellers to shop, order food, book lounges and arrange car parking quickly and easily from their own smartphone. It can also interface with third party programmes such as frequent flyer programmes, ensuring those members can also seamlessly access services, retail and other benefits across the airport.

Stephen Hay, global strategy director of Airport Dimensions, says: “Travellers have been conditioned to expect frictionless access to a full range of digital services and they expect it to be seamlessly integrated – having to use five or six apps to navigate their airport journey across the airport is frustrating and leads to lower levels of engagement and spend.”

Also crucial to this digital evolution are updated systems that meet the expectations of today’s digitally-savvy traveller. This includes providing universal, unlimited and hassle-free WiFi access across the entire airport space.

As Hay puts it: “Gone are the days when airports could offer just 30 minutes of Wi-Fi access, and we know that a disconnected traveller will just close their wallets.”

What’s in it for us?

The commercial advantages that the intelligent use of technology can bring to airports are numerous. It can lead to more formal relationships being formed with passengers based on the value exchange of personal data that bring much to the airport as well as the passenger.

Travellers, for example, may be happy to provide considerable amounts of personal data in exchange for an enhanced travel experience, such as quicker processing through check-in and security for a more bespoke and stress-free journey.

Careful collection and analysis of data from which meaningful insight can be drawn not only points the way to more convenient, more tailored customer experience, it also carves a virtuous circle that enables the airport to make better commercial decisions, and so boosts revenue and profitability.

One key element to success here is scale, whether that’s drawn from the 45 million travellers in the Priority Pass network, the 10,000 orders Servy has just completed, or the 800 million vouchers issued by iCoupon. Data needs to be of sufficient quality as well as quantity for significant conclusions to be reached when it’s analysed.

But whether airports already have developed systems in place or are just taking their first digital steps, there is no doubt that digital advance is only going one way and airports need to be ready now. As Stephen Hay would attest: “The digital airport experience is already here.”

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