Singapore-based SimpliFlying has released their latest report, focused exclusively on seven current trends in airport marketing.
For many travel brands, these trends apply equally, as they demonstrate ways that any travel brand can cross-market, boost ancillary revenues, and develop engaging strategies to accomplish goals.
Airports have traditionally been stale transit hubs, places to be tolerated on the way from A to B. However, things began to shift in the last decade as the organizations running these spaces began to realize the great opportunities inherent to a captive audience.
The scale of airports also began to change over the same period, with the emergence of superhubs that functioned simultaneously as regional hubs and shining showpieces for local governments. See Changi Ariport and Dubai International, two airports that have become thriving aviation hubs in addition to large contributors of income for their respective nations.
As air traffic increases, so will competition from neighboring airports, cities and regions. When a customer has the world to choose from, it can be a challenge to compete. But as airports such as Singapore's Changi have shown, there is value in becoming not just a way station but a stand-alone destination.
The report identifies seven current trends in the airport marketing ecosystem. Altogether, these trends underlie the continuing necessity for airports to forge their own identities.
Airports are increasingly competitive, as travelers seek out travel deals across different routes, airlines, airport amenities and itineraries. By striving to develop a relationship with travelers via solid reputations for service and amenities, airports are able to differentiate their specific location.
In addition, airports must pursue active strategies to target evangelist travelers who are likely to share their experiences with others. Providing interesting, memorable and shareable experiences is the key to making these sorts of shares a reality - so amenities, design, customer service and ease-of-use all come to the forefront as priorities for savvy airport marketers.
An example used here is Eindhoven Airport's Facebook VIP program, where select Facebook users were given perks - that they then share with their friends, creating a virtuous circle that creates advocates.
Eli Lejeune, the airport’s marketing manager:
Through Facebook, people normally get money off or they are able to win tickets. But this VIP programme actually plugs into the actual customer journey. We couldn’t find any other airport in the world that does this. Facebook is an important way for us to stay in touch with our guests. Normally these passengers are in touch with airlines or booking agencies, since the actual deal is between them.
2. Social care
Aka customer service, social care points to the fact that the airport can sometimes be one of the most stressful points of entry to the travel experience.
For airport management companies without direct control over the customer service capabilities of the various tenant airlines, and without control over unknowns like weather delays, there are ample opportunities for the airport to become the saving grace.
The ability for an airport to help manage customer needs - from last-minute gate changes to places to eat to lost items - is vital to a successful airport marketing operation. The report notes that 88% of all tweets to airports are customer service related.
Customer service also becomes a means to boost additional revenue, as a seamless airport experience not only means more time to shop but also a better mindset for the leisure spending that drives airport financials. By combining Advocacy with Social care, brands actually achieve a far greater return, as the two intertwine and create a stronger experience for users - and not to mention, the process of shifting customer care online saves big bucks when compared to staffing multiple counters throughout an airport.
3. Story telling
Travel has always been the best industry for story telling, as the product is inherently emotional, captivating and story-rich. Airports have the opportunity to capitalize on the sheer amount of story passing through each and every day.
One recent example from Changi Airport is the "Be a Changi Millionaire." While the promotion actually touches on several trends mentioned here, the best part was the focus on the story - "become a millionaire" rather than "win a million." And the story was making the rounds - shop clerks mentioning excitedly to customers that someone recently one - a "Chinese traveler."
The opportunity to take these stories, and seed them to social media, means that the airport can fold many of these key trends together.Most importantly, as the promotion is tied to a set dollar amount purchase on site, the airport manages to also increase ancillary revenues and excitement around shopping. This is a key point, because as airports get bigger and more expensive, the pressure to generate more revenue is significant.
Other great examples include "Live@YVR," where a storyteller was stationed for 80 nights exclusively in the Vancouver Airport complex and Dublin Airport's TV3 Life Stories. They each bring a bit of life to the now-stale travel process, putting a bit more romance and humanity into a space that has taken a reputation beating over the past decade.
Airports are increasingly complex, with new terminals sprouting in many different cities. Crowdsourcing the best spots in these changing landscapes is a great way to not only engage evanglists but to ensure the best possible experience for users.
Tech companies have been crowdsourcing customer service for years, and airports can also connect those who want to help to those with questions. There are plenty of airport geeks that revel in sharing their knowledge across forums; capitalizing on this thirst is something airports can consider.
Other areas of crowdsourcing include instant feedback that allows for fast deployment of resources - rather than guessing what areas need to be improved, ask!
A travel through Singapore's Changi Airport will reveal an army of touchscreens, at places such as the toilets, immigration and the ticket check-in counters, where customers can provide instant feedback on their current experience.
Provided the airport pays careful attention to the live feed, managers can deploy resources accordingly while identifying areas of potential improvement. Success stories can also be revealed, highlighted and promoted among staff, in order to create a culture of excellence that propels itself.
5. Red carpet
Everyone wants to feel important while traveling, especially those frequent, loyal travelers of high-worth to both airports and airlines. Creating special programs to recognize these folks is one giant way that airports can increase their competitiveness in the market - why would a customer choose lame Airport X if Airport Y is the one that remembers her, and treats her well while in transit.
In addition, the ability to make the world's cultures feel welcomed is a key competitive advantage for international airports. Developing country-targeted apps, such as Auckland Airport's first-in-category travel planning app in partnership with Chinese microblogging site Weibo, means that cross-culturally welcoming airports will have a leg up in passenger acquisition.
6. Virtual shopping
Ancillary revenues have become a lynchpin for almost every travel business - and airports are no exception.
By using technologies such as smartphone apps and QR codes, airports can actually decentralize the shopping experience while still providing the selection of duty-free items travelers enjoy.
QR code stands can be created in boarding areas, with scanned goods to be purchased and delivered before departure; smartphone apps can engage and gamify shopping, allowing travelers to shop without having to find a specific store.
Examples here include the virtual grocery store by Tesco at London's Gatwick, and the Duty Free Wall - where QR codes take place of products - at Frankfurt's Heinemann Duty Free.
7. Innovative air service development
The sheer numbers of travelers serviced by any given important makes it difficult to specify one particular demographic that is the most valuable to target. By developing detailed demographics and profiles of travelers, airports can actually create specific campaigns and services that target each audience. The messaging will be heard by those that are primed for it, while a less interested demographic will find appeal in their own areas of interest.
See Manchester's ongoing #FlyManchester efforts to re-capture capacity from London's larger airports, which showed real success - an extra 847,000 people used the airport last year, bringing the likely passenger count to over 20 million in 2013.
The full report can be downloaded here.