The Global Airports Q&A

Kamal Qatato, vice president of marketing and solutions management for Sabre Airline Solutions, answers key questions about the airport industry.

The following article was originally published by Global Airports, and Ascend has been granted permission to republish it in its entirety.

What are the most prominent trends in airports for 2015?

Airports are becoming hospitality-inspired destinations in their own right, and we will see this trend develop throughout 2015 and beyond. Consumers now expect superior experiences and higher levels of service, and airports are responding to this by creating holistic environments for their travelers, becoming mega hubs of entertainment, retail and amenities – frequently referred to as “aerotropolises”.

These environments are also offering higher levels of connectivity, responding to consumer demand. Mobile will offer new opportunities for airports to engage with passengers; technology will help improve the experience for guests who will be able to access an increasing amount of real-time information and services from their devices. For example, Heathrow’s mobile app is a great example of enhancing the traveler experience by providing travel management tools, live flight information, personalized retail offers and city guides.

What are the greatest opportunities for airports?

There is a huge opportunity now for airports that can get the passenger experience right; recent research from Mobile Travel Technologies found that almost 70 percent of travelers would take more trips if the airport and air experience were to be improved. And the 2010 J.D. Power and Associates Airport Satisfaction Study found that “delighted” passengers spent 45 percent more money per airport visit than those that were disappointed.

Airport retail is also offering an increasingly large stream of revenue for airports; 44 percent of global airport revenue comes from non-aeronautical services (Bank on Data, Airport World 2014). Between 60 and 80 percent of travelers would use an app that offers them products that are relevant to their journeys (NCR Company’s 2014 Traveler Experience Survey). This presents a huge opportunity for airports to engage with travelers in a more personalized way.

What are the biggest challenges facing airports today?

Improving the airport experience means providing guests with a highly personalized, seamless experience.

Due to the proliferation of smart devices, one of the greatest challenges for airports – along with airlines and hotels – is harnessing the huge amounts of data that their travelers create throughout their journeys.

Throughout the travel experience, there are various customer touch points from which data is collected – everything from comparison-shopping and reservations, to check-in, baggage claim and social sharing. Right now that information is disparate and in silos. The challenge for airports is the ability to send that data to a central repository for detail analysis, and to receive recommendations on how best to provide passengers with a personalized offering.

Another significant challenge is that airline capacity growth and airport constraints are requiring increasingly efficient operations. Technology that enables collaborative decision-making based on sharing and communicating real-time data between all airport operations will be key.

What role does technology have in this and how is it likely to change the airport industry?

Data and mobile are key to providing a radically new and improved experience for travelers. Data allows airline and travel companies to understand their travelers, their history, their preferences, and what they’re likely to want. Companies that excel in this area must have access to data, the experience to decipher and mine it, and the ability to integrate and deliver it to customers through consumer-grade user experience.

The industry wants to turn big insights into simple things. It wants the ability to leverage traveler data captured for real-time business intelligence analytics, insights and visualisation to deliver recommendations to make airports better.

And mobile will help deliver this to travelers in a way that is natural, consistent and convenient. Mobile devices – smartphones, tablets, wearables – could be soon tracked by geo-location technology, which will allow agencies and suppliers to convey two-way information to travelers when it’s most convenient. Combine that with smart data and retailing, and you unlock endless possibilities for revenue and customer satisfaction.

How will the airport experience change for travelers over the coming few years?

The focus is on making the airport and air travel experience more pleasant for travelers. We will see a further shift towards airports as destinations – which will mean more integration with the hospitality, retail and technology sectors.

We will also start to see the impact of technology on the travel journey. As data mining and mobile technology becomes more advanced and more widely adopted, it will change the way we experience airport visits.

Most notably, we will witness the simplification of much-loathed processes such as security, passport control, baggage handling and check-in. ‘The Future of Air Travel’ report, commissioned by Sabre in 2014 for the Economist Intelligence Unit, found that the top priority in improving the boarding process for both airlines executives and consumers was boarding without manual intervention, using electronic systems.