Trends in airport digital communications

SAN DIEGO — Recently, airport business magazine and SITA partnered on the development of a survey focused on identifying trends in innovative passenger and customer communication techniques related to social media, mobile technology, and other digital platforms utilized by airports.

Results of the survey were presented at the ACI-NA Annual Conference held here in October. Following are highlights of the survey results ...

Of the respondents, almost half represent non-hub airports with less than 350,000 annual departing passengers. Nearly a quarter represent large hub airports; a fifth represent small hub airports; and just more than a tenth of the sample represent medium hub airports.

Additionally, 51 percent of respondents indicate they are senior airport managers, 21 percent are in airport operations; and 9 percent are an airport commissioner or airport authority member. Remaining respondents identify themselves as IT, public relations, or customer service professionals.

Valued Services

Airports rated the following communications platforms from most to least important: Airport website; e-newsletters; Facebook; mobile website; Twitter; and YouTube. We also asked respondents to rate each platform individually by indicating if they are: highly important, important, offer some value, or offer little value.

The airport website is the platform that is most important for informing and communicating to the customer (75 percent say ‘highly important’). This is the airport’s online HQ and is the base at which digital communication begins, and the hub with which the airport delivers content to additional digital communication platforms such as e-news, Facebook, and Twitter.

Some 20 percent of respondents say Facebook offers ‘little value’ while some 78 percent say it offers at least some value. Almost half say Facebook is either ‘important’ or ‘highly important’.

The mobile website platform resulted in a mixed response — 20 percent deemed the mobile airport website as ‘highly important’ while 30 percent say it offers ‘little value’.

Airports are still struggling with implementing the best way to reach and inform passengers via a mobile device. There is quite a debate occurring with regards to the benefits of mobile-enabled websites for airports as opposed to mobile device applications (apps). Even so, 70 percent of respondents say the mobile space offers at least ‘some value’.

Twitter is ‘highly important’ to only 8 percent of respondents. Some 40 percent find Twitter to be of ‘little value’, however, some 30 percent indicate Twitter offers at least ‘some value’.


Some 32 percent of respondents indicate that enhancing customer service and interaction is the primary driver for initiating a digital communications strategy. Additional drivers include enhanced marketing efforts and customer demand for the service.

Based on what is known about airline cost-cutting and its effect on customer service, it’s no surprise that airports initiate digital communication techniques to enhance customer service and interact more with the passenger base. These techniques can help identify an airport brand as the owner of the passenger experience.

Inhibitors include time and resource availability, cost, and lack of knowledge.

Regarding plans to utilize social media, all respondents indicate they are using social media to some degree in delivering some or all of the following: flight information and operational updates; to survey; disruption and emergency updates; customer service handling; and to promote and sell airport products and services. Additionally:

  • 60 percent are delivering flight information updates via social media; nearly 25 percent plan to do this by the end of 2012;
  • Some 27 percent use social media for external surveys and focus groups;
  • More than 60 percent offer disruption and emergency updates via social media; 20 percent have plans to do this by the end of 2012;
  • Some 54 percent use social media for customer relationship handling; 23 percent plan to use social media for this by the end of 2012.

Regarding resource allocation, 46 percent of respondents say they dedicate one part-time position; 11 percent have more than one part-time position; 11 percent have one full-time position; 13 percent have 2-to-5 full-time positions; and 13 percent say they outsource this task to an external agency.

When asked about the aspect of digital communications respondents would like to learn more about to help the airport meet its overall objectives, the largest response was for information about social media marketing and communication strategies, and information about iPads or other tablet devices.

For more information on the Communication Evolution session at ACI-NA’s annual event, visit