Airport Services’ Secret Weapon

April 16, 2013
Airports can leverage the power of their wireless networks through powerful analytics to connect with passengers, improve operations and drive revenue


… airports have a largely untapped opportunity to harness wireless network intelligence to own the traveler experience, foster customer loyalty, improve operational efficiencies, and grow non-airline revenue.

The concession experience can be optimized through wireless network analytics.

The majority of today’s airports see tens of thousands of passengers pass through their facilities daily without making any airport-to-customer connections.  

For resource-constrained airports bridging that gap may seem daunting, but the majority of those airports (and even resource-laden ones) have already invested in one of the “killer apps” necessary to better establish passenger relationships and improve satisfaction: their wireless network. 

Since most consumers like to connect their devices to WiFi, airports have a largely untapped opportunity to harness wireless network intelligence to own the traveler experience, foster customer loyalty, improve operational efficiencies, and grow non-airline revenue. In 2013, future-focused airports will stop looking at their WiFi networks as a passenger amenity and start embracing the power of its analytics to deliver game-changing customer experiences.

Building the Customer Relationship

Airlines have been leaders in using mobile to get to know their customers and their spending habits -- through loyalty program apps and close-knit integration with tools like Apple’s Passbook. Meanwhile airports, which are the literal hub of the travel experience, lack any meaningful data about the passengers who fill their terminals. 

Airport wireless networks present a ready tool for passenger relationship development that can easily leverage existing investments. Via the WiFi network, an airport marketing team can field surveys to gather anonymized customer service preferences and feedback; or they can pop a Web interstitial at network log in that encourages passengers to opt in to an airport’s rewards program or follow the airport on social media. 

Once a traveler has opted to engage with an airport, the sky’s the limit on opportunities designed to foster direct, ongoing relationships with individual customers. Airports can push instant coupons for concessions, updates on gate and flight changes, or send news alerts on airport construction or new amenities.

Connected travelers are welcoming these kinds of real-time push notifications from the airports they frequent. According to FlightView’s recent Travelers Survey, ,more than 90 percent of travelers say they would welcome flight status information and nearly 40 percent wanted coupons for concessions from the airport.

Go with the Data Flow

Other key areas where service optimization opportunities are often missed are the airport security and concession lines. Not only can traveler frustration mount while enduring long lines, but valuable shopping and productivity minutes are also lost, leading to decreased overall revenue opportunities. Participants in a recent IATA passenger survey reported extended queuing time as the most frustrating part of security screening so much so that nearly 3/4 of the travelers surveyed said they were willing to share personal information with governments to speed up this process.

When paired with Bluetooth sensors to enable even more specific time and spatial accuracy, existing wireless infrastructure can offer a solution for queuing nightmares, and can help budget-conscious airports maximize staffing to ensure greatest efficiency at the lowest cost. When WiFi is turned on, WiFi-enabled devices passively beacon area access points. Devices that have WiFi turned off or aren’t WiFi-enabled can usually be sensed via Bluetooth signaling. When this collective data is analyzed in aggregate, airports can gain a real-time understanding about congested areas and wait times, and can take immediate action to reallocate staff to reduce queuing times and traveler frustration.

These queuing management solutions can also map right back to that direct customer relationship. Airports can elect to push wait time notifications to customers so they can better plan their travel day, and more quickly get to the fun and lucrative part of the land-side journey: concessions.

The concession experience also can be optimized through wireless network analytics. The old sales adage holds that the first step to a sale is getting the customer through the door. Airport analytics can not only reveal if a customer is walking through the door, but also how much time they spend there versus other concessions and gates in the terminal. Over time, analytics analysis can reveal foot traffic in a given area, such as the food court, or a specific store, and the conversion of these travelers into in-store browsers and potential buyers.

The data delivered by these aggregated analytics can inform actions as far-reaching as terminal concession reconfiguration and rent adjustments, or as granular as moving signage to catch consumer attention and improve traffic flow. This intelligence also can be applied to areas as diverse as restrooms and charging stations. Imagine how customer satisfaction and ASQ scores could increase if an airport’s bathrooms were always clean and fully stocked, and the newsstand never had a line longer than a few people.

Better Services = Better Revenue

In addition to removing the barriers to concession revenue created by long lines or other inefficiencies, existing airport wireless networks can deliver services that ultimately drive revenue to the bottom line.

Consumers have come to expect wayfinding services everywhere from their local mall to their favorite amusement parks. FlightView‘s Traveler’s Survey found that more than 70 percent of leisure travelers want gate-to-gate walking instructions and concession information to make their journey more pleasant and productive.

But finding this information from a reliable source can present a challenge to travelers, with dozens of competing travel and concession apps to choose from. The consumer demand and app onslaught provides airports with an opportunity to simplify and own the traveler experience, by offering official way-finding services and maps via the airport’s public portal -- the airport WiFi network landing page. The airport’s wireless network analytics can provide real-time updates, making it as easy as possible for a traveler to find the services they want .

Airport networks also can be leveraged to deliver new revenue opportunities to offset network and operations costs through location-based advertising. Travelers who wish to access wireless networks can be asked to first engage with an advertiser for 15 to 30 seconds, by watching a video, visiting a Web page or completing a survey. This cost-per-engagement (or CPE) advertising provides guaranteed engagement to advertisers and revenue to airports, underwriting the costs of the connectivity consumers expect and the analytics that keep the airport competitive.

Keeping Privacy Paramount

The big opportunities in airport analytics may also spur big concerns about privacy, especially at a time when major public and private organizations are the target of sophisticated hackers.

Most wireless-enabled airport analytics are gathered through passive beaconing of a WiFi or Bluetooth-enabled device. The beaconing does not reveal a traveler’s personal information, but rather their location, and the amount of time they spend in various spots throughout the airport alongside hundreds of fellow passengers. Meaningful traffic trends that provide actionable information to airports are only found on this aggregated and anonymous level.

Travelers can also play an important role in determining the amount of information they share with an airport. Passengers who wish to receive push notifications or special offers from an airport by definition must provide their mobile number or email address to receive the offers, and must agree to an individual location’s terms and conditions. If a traveler wishes not to share their personal information, they can simply opt-out of an airport’s customer outreach programs.

Airport analytics can accomplish what has been seemingly impossible in the past. Analytics can maximize existing infrastructure to deliver advanced customer relationship management programs and airport operational improvements that generate additional revenue through better service, all while maintaining individual privacy. Large and small airports alike should be able to see and appreciate the benefits available from existing investments.

BIO: Zachary Sterngold, Vice President, Airport Business Development, Boingo Wireless.

With more than 10 years of experience helping state and local governments procure wireless communication technology, Zack Sterngold understands the challenges airports face balancing their business requirements with passenger needs.

He has first-hand experience with resource constraints in the public sector and believes the most effective way to serve passengers is through public-private sector collaboration. In addition, as a supplier that currently serves more than 60 airports worldwide, Zack can provide unique insight into the trends and expectations of today's "always-connected consumer."

An engineer by training and frequent flyer/road warrior, his personal and professional philosophy is driven by three principles: results, responsibility and accountability.

Zack holds an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA, a BS from UC San Diego and is a licensed Professional Engineer.