Airports: towards a customer centric future

Future airports will need to be data-centric, given the real need for adapting on the fly to accommodate future opportunities and volume. Centralised airport ecosystems and data flows will increasingly allow for forecasting that goes beyond current airport windows. Technology, in the wider sense, should thus be seen as an enabler of future strategies as well as a strategy in and of itself. With prediction becoming a science as opposed to an art, the future airport will need to become an adaptive and responsive ecosystem – both for its passengers and for planners. Those who find how to balance ever spiraling expectations and a desire for ‘connection’ will likely be tomorrow’s winners. To succeed at scale will require close attention to design principles and crafting truly consumer-centric business models that incorporate technology ‘invisibly’ and unobtrusively as well as significant investment in change management and human skills and preparedness.

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Some of the more important changes will occur in the back-end of aviation industries, but the visible technology change will likely occur with consumer facing technologies and even spaces. There is already a trend towards incorporating outdoor and green spaces into airport spaces, providing benefits that can extend beyond direct passenger wellness or experience. For example, Chicago O’Hare uses such spaces for growing food that then supplies terminal located restaurants such as the Aeroponic Urban Garden[i].

Consumer centrism will likely spread throughout the ecosystem. For example, a new ticket-selling technology called NDC (New Distribution Capability), has the ability to analyse significant volumes of data that airlines routinely collect but do not act on. This will imminently enable airlines to ‘…provide every travel shopper a unique, customized price for any given trip about which they may inquire. Plus, it could soon include additional services like ground transportation and hotel rooms or, eventually, services like dinner reservations and concert tickets and retail goods ranging from travel accessories to clothing[ii].’

Greater data gathering and analysis will also allow airlines to personalise the on-board experience, with airplane cabins potentially configured by function, such as family, senior and group zones and booths[iii]. However, achieving such changes will require a new degree of consumer trust and an ability to add value to consumer propositions, in the likely event that data regulation further empowers consumers. Outlined by the World Economic Forum, it is suggested that a ‘…person’s data should reside in an account where it would be controlled, managed, exchanged and accounted for[iv],’ by around 2028. If data does indeed become a bankable commodity then airlines will need to develop attractive consumer propositions that enable them access to such data. This could either be in the form of various discounts or perhaps supplying value elsewhere in the travel ecosystem.

A shift towards providing value will require airlines and airports to rethink any presumptions they may have about either engaging or ‘owning’ the consumer and customer journey. It is likely that passengers will be selective about their communications and data choices in the absence of extra value provision. Airports, as increasingly intelligent, predictive and ‘pre-emptive,’ environments may be best placed to drive this change, although ecosystem involvement – and synergies – will be required to provide a seamless experience.

Few airports would dispute that they need transition away from a process driven focus and towards a passenger centric model. This concept needs to reach throughout the ecosystem, including airlines, tech providers, airports, other interested parties and increasingly passengers themselves. Interesting new sources of value are likely to appear as ecosystem partners strive to deliver new experiences and competencies. Passenger data may become the most important variable in the aviation industry. Establishing trust could require blockchain technology or some other medium that gives passenger control over their data, dealing with privacy concerns and helping break down silos within the aviation sector itself. The latter issue – sometimes overlooked in the face of a plethora of consumer facing technologies – is a key starting point in achieving success.

[i] Source: RE Journal, 2018 https://www.rejournals.com/five-transformations-shaping-airports-of-the-future-20180705

[ii] Source: Forbes, 2018 https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielreed/2018/06/07/airline-fares-ndc/#4858f5295977

[iii] Source: ABC News, 2018 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-01/flight-of-the-future/9380290

[iv] Source: The Economist, 2017 https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21721634-how-it-shaping-up-data-giving-rise-new-economy

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