Picture the scene. You’re stuck in a traffic jam for over hour in an airport car park after a long-haul flight. Irritable, yet armed with your smartphone, you turn first to your preferred news channel, then to Google and finally the airport website. No luck.
NB This is a guest article by Pamela Whitby, editor of EyeForTravel.
You try tweeting the airport; still no news. So you do what you used to do in the old days - find someone who looks official. He or she politely informs you – as only the British can - that the Heathrow Tunnel is closed until further notice due to an incident.
So much for having information at your fingertips!
For the frequent and even not-so-frequent traveler, the prospect of being always connected and accurately informed at all points of a trip is appealing. However, as the above example highlights, there is still work to do.
The good news is that progress is being made, if slowly.
“There is, I think, an absolute recognition across the industry that we need to collaborate and share data more effectively,” says Chris Annetts, director of commercial passenger services at London's Heathrow Airport, who acknowledges that addressing such incidents are among the issues it is trying to solve.
But there is a reluctance to share data - it's not so long since company data was considered too valuable to share with third parties. But now it’s considered too valuable not to share and that’s down to the consumer who has more power than ever and expects to be told what is happening, where, when and why.
In the past, the last interaction the customer had with the travel brand before they arrived at the airport was when they left the home or office. Today, travellers can access information, products and services in multiple ways while on the move via the device in their pockets (or maybe on their wrist).
Heathrow knows that 80% of travellers leave home with some sort of smart device so are reachable on their way to the airport. “Of course, we’d love everybody to reach us via our Heathrow app or website but that’s not realistic. Consumers will access information through a range of digital channels and we need to respond to that,” Annetts says.
Sharing isn’t easy
Sharing data with third parties presents a number of challenges: fragmentation, systems integration, a lack of standards, legal and compliance issues, operational stumbling blocks such as service delivery, the list goes on.
According to Jens Wohltorf, chief executive of chauffeur-driven service BlackLane, the biggest long-term issue is integration. Although he envisages a day when a traveller will simply have to enter a meeting in a calendar and be pinged with a complete itinerary, there is still work to do. This example will require integration between calendar software, traveller profile information and corporate booking systems.
In other words, lots of people will need to be involved in order to carve out a solution that works technologically, operationally and commercially.
Already Heathrow is sharing terminal map and information data with a number of airlines and partners, and is also trialing new technologies such as iBeacons.
Meanwhile firms such as Transport for London (TFL) is making real-time information available on Open Source APIs with, it is reported, positive results.
Another dilemma yet to be solved is how to manage the sharing of data with businesses who have a commercial interest in accessing airline and airport data.
“This is a lot harder to do,” admits Annetts.
According to IATA, airline industry profits are set to grow by a record 80% in 2015, and everybody wants a slice of the pie. Clearly airline data is valuable and big names such as Google, Apple, TripAdvisor and Skyscanner are weighing in on the opportunity.
Because of the power these brands hold over consumers, it’s crunch time. Heathrow is in talks with firms such as Google, Apple, and other major global technology players, as well as the airlines, to ensure that “there is one version of the truth and the information is used in an appropriate way”.
Heathrow understands that if you are handing over your core information with the goal of delivering on the promise of being timely, accurate, relevant and personal, getting those partnerships right is business-critical.
“We want to make it as easy as possible to share information, but if you set up a data exchange and it fails, then everybody suffers,” says Annetts.
For example, if a shop changes location or an airline moves terminal, then it’s vital that all partners update that information in real time.
That’s not happening often enough right now. It can have a negative impact not only on the traveller's journey but also their perception of the travel brand. And it is the brand which suffers, not the information provider.
Ask any brand linked to travel what their stated aim is, and inevitably it will be to improve and perfect their customer experience. A goal underpinned, of course, by commercial objectives. In an airport context, happy and relaxed travelers who have checked-in smoothly and know exactly where they are going are far more likely to engage with products and services in the terminal. Heathrow’s data backs this up.
In this scenario airports can clearly benefit from airline partnerships. As an example, the airport won’t know when the person is actually flying but the airlines will. The opportunity here to deliver relevant, personal and timely messages is a obvious.
This benefits airlines too. In the case of Heathrow, a regulated business, every pound of non-aeronautical revenue generated potentially reduces cost of airline operations.
Another field where a lot of thought is being given to how airlines and airports can effectively collaborate is around in-flight wifi. The ability to connect with the traveler during their flight, telling them what products and services are available in the airport upon landing, represents a huge opportunity.
For many – and Heathrow is one of them – the basic principles are there and there is positive intent. But it’s early days and going forward companies will have to work leaner, more flexibly, with a common focus and far more trust.
NB1 This is a guest article by Pamela Whitby, editor of EyeForTravel. It appears here as part of Tnooz's sponsored content initiative.
NB2Join Heathrow, Skyscanner, BlackLane and other leading travel industry brands who will debate this theme at EyeforTravel’s Connected Traveller 2015 conference (Oct 22-23).
NB3Image by Shutterstock.