Making Connections

Smartphones and digital devices are giving airports a run for their money as they vie for passenger attention in today’s increasingly digital world. To penetrate passengers’ technology cocoons, airports need to forge a few virtual connections

Connecting with passengers in a busy airport environment is critical to facility owners---not only to provide directional and flight information, but also to maximize non-aviation revenue generation through advertising and marketing opportunities, communicate safety and regulatory messages, and provide information about the community beyond the four corners of the airport. Making these connections is not as easy as it seems, however. Competing messages from a variety of digital platforms, and even the behavior patterns of the travelers’ themselves, complicate this task.

Many passengers travel within a “technology cocoon” that began to develop years ago with laptops, and is now virtually complete with smartphones and tablets. Within this cocoon, passengers tend to focus on these devices and less on their surrounding environment. This technology cocoon represents an imaginary surface that is different than airports are traditionally accustomed to addressing.

There are two options to help airports penetrate this technology cocoon. The first strategy addresses utilizing mobile platforms to engage passengers within their cocoons. The second focuses on developing facility kiosks to help draw passengers out of them. Both methods directly engage passengers, and provide information, marketing, and even entertainment, as passengers move through the terminal.

Get Smart About Smartphones

Recent surveys show approximately 90 percent of airline passengers carry at least one smartphone. It is safe to assume---through direct observation---that many also carry multiple digital devices. Based on this, airports should consider pushing information directly to passengers on their mobile devices.

Airports can take advantage of this trend by designing web pages tailored to mobile devices or by utilizing apps designed specifically for the airport industry (or the specific airport). Scaled down web pages or airport-focused apps typically supply the same information delivered via traditional in-terminal signage. For example, the Clear Channel Airport FlySmart app contains detailed terminal maps that help users locate their position in an airport, find a nearby restaurant, track a flight, and locate ground transportation. It also generates ad revenue for the airport by integrating advertising into the app. All of this information transfers through the technology cocoon directly to passengers on their smartphones or tablets.

Community Connections

Airports should also consider connecting with passengers outside their technology cocoons by providing opportunities for them to interact with digital signage within the airport. Interactive kiosks are one form of digital signage that grabs passengers’ attention and encourages their direct engagement. Like mobile technology, interactive kiosks allow users to choose what information to display at any given time. But unlike mobile devices, interactive kiosks remain static in the facility. The advantage is these kiosks allow information to be presented in a large format; accessed directly by users in the facility; pushed out to passengers, either through print or to mobile devices; and used to connect passengers to social media.

The Port Columbus International Airport (CMH) installed two versions of interactive kiosks in 2012. Clear Channel Airport completed the first installation as a replacement to its existing digital courtesy phone board. The new kiosks provided bright, responsive ads for hotels, ground transportation, and other local amenities and attractions. Like Clear Channel Airport’s old phone boards, these interactive kiosks contained detailed information on each paying client. But unlike the previous boards, upon direct input from the passenger, these kiosks included a “text to phone” feature to replace legacy printers. This new level of integration enables passengers to easily access information from their mobile devices.

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