Walk through any airport and you will see a common sight–travellers juggle luggage in tow with cell phones, tablets and other devices in hand. Travellers are more technologically adept than ever, demanding better, faster and more personalized services. With choices at their fingertips, they seek the options and airports that best meet their needs. As a result, airport managers must ramp up technology innovation to appeal to today’s technology savvy traveller and ease the many challenges they face, providing an exceptional passenger experience, which ultimately generates an increasing income for the airport.
Aviation service companies like ABM have been Integrating technology into their service offerings with tremendous success from expediting the entry and exit of parking garages, checking in and boarding planes quickly, to locating resources, navigating today’s sprawling airport cities, and making payments easy—all improve the travel experience while creating customer loyalty.
A Turbulent Market
Once enjoying the good old days of little competition and reaping the revenues of booming air travel, airports now face the burdens of a sluggish economy, lower airfares, frugal leisure travellers and reduced corporate travel budgets. All of these market forces have put a huge dent in aeronautical revenue fuelling fierce competition. Challenged airport operators are feeling the tightening squeeze of this lost revenue and are seeking to gain a competitive edge. For airports to survive and thrive today, their best bet is to diversify and provide new and improved non-aeronautical income streams that enhance the passenger experience. Moreover, making wise use of technology further maximizes revenues from these channels to strengthen cash flow and attract and retain customers.
Piloting the Way
Over the past 10 years, technology implementations in airport and airline operations have rapidly increased. One trend on the rise is outsourced airport “ambassadors” who, equipped with tablet devices, seamlessly blend into the airport workforce and serve as comforting guides for anxious, hurried travellers navigating throughout the airport. For example, at London Heathrow Airport, OmniServ (an ABM company) ambassadors, many of whom are multi-lingual; use technology to provide various types of operational support, including language translation, informational hosting, check-in assistance, compliance handling, flight connections assistance, and e-passport support.
Destination Retail Targeting
Today’s global airports are no longer restricted to food courts, magazine stands and duty-free stores. These “airport cities” now offer luxury shopping malls and gallerias featuring brand-name boutiques and specialty retail; gourmet dining restaurants with regional cuisine; entertainment venues complete with live music, art and cultural attractions, as well as centres for knowledge exchange and booming business. By gathering flight data through the use of technology to target specific cultures, airport operators can use these high-end retail experiences and other targeted services and campaigns to appeal to many types of passengers, creating an expectation of excellent service that establishes brand loyalty and maximizes the dollars they spend in the terminal.
Everything in its Place
The most competitive airports stay at the leading edge of technology in order to reduce congestion, optimize operations, improve customer service and maximize overall net profit. An exceptional passenger experience requires that shuttle services and parking management go smoothly so travellers aren’t lost in the airport hustle and bustle and are assured of getting to their destinations safely and on time. Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation technology is one way airports are making sure shuttle drivers are where they need to be and moving passengers from their cars to the gate. Airport shuttles, hard-wired with GPS trackers that transmit location data at regular intervals, can provide information on airport shuttle drivers’ speed, productivity and arrival and departure locations. The devices also help airport operators reduce fuel consumption by better route selection and enhance vehicle security through theft recovery technology. In addition, technology and the push to offer additional benefits for consumers have produced many new and creative ways for airports to leverage parking and transportation to optimize non-aeronautical income. For example, mobile apps for smartphones and devices help travellers connect the dots and put parking information right at their fingertips, helping reduce the common misperception of parking chaos at the airport and providing them with exceptional parking experiences. Partnering with full-service parking management providers like ABM is an efficient way for airports to optimize their parking operations, which continue to account for the greatest source of non-aeronautical revenue for many airports.
Technology at Your Service
Technology is also helping airports enhance the services they are required to provide to wheelchair clients under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA). Airlines are facing challenges to remain in compliance and typically contract wheelchair services to outside providers to effectively provide wheelchair clients with prompt service, which is required under the act. Using integrated flight and passenger data feeds, along with innovative tracking technology, such as near field communication (NFC), contracted attendants can be optimally dispatched quickly to assist wheelchair clients when needed. Another service area, which can make or break the passenger experience, is airport cleanliness. Now advanced far beyond mop and bucket, some commercial cleaning management services contractors are using historical and real time flight history data to track large influxes of passengers, building janitorial staffing schedules to ensure staff are always on call and dispatched accordingly to keep all areas within the airport terminal clean.
“For airports to survive and thrive today, their best bet is to diversify and provide new and improved non-aeronautical income streams that enhance the overall passenger experience”
Without a doubt, many of us have noticed that travellers’ use of technology is getting louder in today’s airports as their devices emit the pings of message alerts. But the big message that airport operators must hear loud and clear is that technology—and how customers use it in their travels—continues to evolve. Therefore, it’s critical to embrace innovative technology solutions in all aspects of airport operations to ensure outstanding passenger experiences, which in turn, boosts revenues to a higher level.