How Social Media and Emerging Technologies Influence Passenger Flow

Analyzing real-time data allows airports to gain a deep understanding of passenger behavior

“An example of an airline implementing a powerful social program is Estonian Air,” said Elizabeth Cecconi, SimpliFlying’s head of airport engagement. “They have been recognized as an outstanding example of a link between an airport and regional carrier by launching the world’s first social loyalty program, where passengers are rewarded for Facebook and Foursquare check-ins and the recommendations they make.”

Leading customer loyalty programs are now able to provide airlines of all sizes with the ability to offer frequent flyer programs. Beyond loyalty programs, airports are integrating social media into their customer service departments.

Recently, Portland International Airport (PDX) and Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) began training their guest service representatives and call center staff to monitor Twitter feeds and respond to passengers just as they would if a call had come in to their airport.

Social media, which allows for monitoring of check-ins through location-based tools such as Foursquare, also provides the opportunity for airports to leverage new mobile apps and turn them into social rewards platforms. Passengers can be rewarded for checking-in on their Foursquare accounts and writing reviews of their travel experiences while at the airport. Retailers and restaurants located within airports can leverage social media to develop targeted one-on-one communications to travelers, alerting them that there is a special discount available close by.

Interestingly, research has shown that customers who check-in on Foursquare are likely to spend 3.5 times more than the average traveler. For this reason, it’s in the best interest of airports to partner with their key retail and dining locations to offer specials and encourage users to shop and dine before their flights.

A Personalized Experience

Another trend highlighted in SITA’s 2012 Airport IT Trends Survey is the expected increase in mobile and social media apps that deliver a more personalized customer experience. Keeping passengers informed about their flight status and wait times is the chief reason for airports to offer mobile apps, with 88 percent planning to invest in them by the end of 2015. During this period, 78 percent of airports also plan to invest in social media.

SITA’s recently published 2012 Passenger Self-Service Survey discovered that just over half of passengers are interested in mobile advertising, and out of those currently not interested, 61 percent would welcome it if it were relevant and personalized.

The ultimate creation of an airport mobile application, linking social media channels and incorporating a social rewards program, will allow airports complete access to useful, actionable data. Once funding is obtained and beta testing is finalized, data will be mined and analyzed.

It is predicted, based on successful pilots across the globe, that findings will favor a boost in IT spend to address growth challenges. Once IT resources are implemented, these emerging trends stand to fundamentally change the way engineers plan and build airports, not to mention how airport managers operate them.

Evolving with the Times

“The fact of the matter is, as technology advances and social media continues to grow at exponential rates, legacy systems in today’s airports are not going to be able to keep up,” says Faith Varwig, Faith Group LLC. “With the assistance of well-established leaders such as SITA, airports can leverage their experience to build industry-leading platforms for their reusability, flexibility, and agility.”

Another recent evolution, according to Varwig, is the overall interest and adoption of previously mentioned technologies for passenger flow management. This is on the rise due in part to its ability to identify anomalies and areas of potential improvement.

As everything shifts to real-time and our market continues to evolve, the time has come to implement innovative technologies. We now have the power to uncover various potential issues before they arise, avoiding delays and improving performance.

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