We can now binge watch an entire TV series the instant it’s released, book taxis within minutes and order our favourite meals the moment the hunger craving sets in. Amongst all this disruption, airports are also in the midst of huge social change. At their most basic, travellers will soon have the same expectations for travel as they do in all other spheres: providing instant alerts, hyper-connectivity and facilitating intuitive spaces.
This change is especially important as our yearning for travel shows no sign of abating: this year 3.6 billion people are expected to take to the skies, up from 2 billion a decade ago. As this increase hits the travel market, imagine a world where airports are not a source of stress, but rather an extension of the entire holiday experience.
Thanks to technology, airports and airlines are now in a position to ease delays and delight consumers with increasing sophistication. According to the BBC, airport operators invested £4.6bn on IT services in 2014, experimenting with innovations including automated check-in, navigational apps and new ways of promoting retail opportunities. In the future, consumer touchpoints will have more than a segmented and clinical check-in, security and boarding functionality.
Smart technology and the sharing of first and third party data between airports and airlines will ease stress and mean consumers can receive real time key information about their journey.
Not sure of your flight details? Google reads your emails and shows the booking on Maps. Not sure where to park? Your app will direct you. Your flight is delayed? You receive a push notification allowing you a little more time in Duty Free. The gate is changed? Your phone helps you find a new route through the airport.
Where do these changes leave brands and advertisers? For those quick to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities there is so much they can do to upsell and cross-sell as they find ways to enhance the wait time. The latest Nielsen researchshows that 80% of frequent flyers remain connected to Wi-Fi throughout their airport journeys.
Tapping into airport location-aware apps alongside beacon technology, brands will be able to envelop the consumer journey from the moment they park up to the final message at the boarding gates, as well as reaching out to them during dwell time (an average 2.5 hour wait where traveller’s mind-sets are positive and buoyant) with one-off events and special offers.
Manchester Airports Group (MAG) alone is spending hundreds of millions of pounds transforming its four airports into slick, transient cities. As airports become social microcosms, they eventually become destinations in their own right, offering brands the opportunity to engage with consumers in more interesting ways.
Much like the 21st century commuter stations, airports now go beyond their basic functional capacity of getting passengers from A to B. Singapore’s Changi, with its rooftop swimming pool, butterfly garden and free 24-hour cinema, already surpasses our expectations of what an airport should be – and is setting the tone for what they will become; “social architectural spaces” passenger-centred and service-oriented.
Imagine arriving at the airport to find your phone checking you in automatically based on your location. Your flight information tells brands that you’re off somewhere hot and sunny and that you’ll be responsive to discounts on sunglasses and swimwear. With your new bikini in hand, you’re invited to a free swim in the airport pool. After a dip, your luxury brand app pings you with an offer of free bubbly to reward you for your continued loyalty. And to make your time with the kids run a little more smoothly an entertainment brand offers you a free download of their latest Disney film to your iPad.
This vision of smart airports delivering personal, intuitive and contextually relevant communication isn’t a distant fantasy but a revolution that’s already boarding. Airports, brands and consumers should take their seats and fasten their belts for imminent take-off.