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Why Travel Brands Need to Play Nice and Share

Kenneth Lindfors • CCO, UK

With the international travel sector gathered at the Luton Hoo Hotel for the CX Travel and Hospitality Exchange recently, two themes dominated the presentations and after-dinner chat:

  1. Who's going to crack the end-to-end air travel experience first?
  2. Where are the commercial opportunities when they do?

It was encouraging to see senior CX and marketing professionals from airlines, airports, car hire companies and travel agencies all focussed on making air travel an easier and more enjoyable experience for passengers, while also looking for better ways to monetise it. Good intentions aside, the consensus from delegates was that the challenges involved in delivering a relaxed, hassle-free customer journey are considerable.

Fragmentation

One major obstacle is the level of fragmentation involved in end-to-end journeys. If you take the average trip to the airport - whether by public transport, minicab or private car - there are usually several stages. From rail operating companies, to coach providers, to airport car parking, this means even before the passenger has arrived at the airport, multiple stakeholders have been involved, all with widely different agendas and expectations. On arrival at the airport, negotiating check-in, security, passport control, retail outlets, and the customer’s journey becomes yet more fragmented with a larger number of stakeholders, business models and regulatory requirements involved. This makes the task of delivering a unified, seamless customer experience even harder to achieve.

Data and Collaboration

With so many stakeholders and competing agendas, collaboration in the interests of the customers and higher profit margins might seem an impossible dream. Sharing customer data (subject to GDPR regulations) is a case in point: delegates agreed that airlines have the richest customer data. However - with some exceptions (for example Finnair and airport operator Finavia worked with us to launch the Facial Recognition Experiment at Helsinki Airport), airlines are reluctant to share their data.

What’s Needed - a silo-busting big idea

So how can the travel sector resolve the impasse between the desire to deliver better customer experience, airlines’ reluctance to share data and the wider context of many varied and competing interests and agendas?

What if there was one idea, so commercially interesting, so big and crazy, that companies were prepared to sink their differences to make it happen?

All hail the Travel Data Aggregator

Delegates agreed that while airlines hold the richest datasets, all brands involved in the passenger airport journey could benefit from access to better data. What would happen if these brands pooled their data (regulations permitting) in the interests of improving the quality of the customer experience and monetising it more effectively? One interesting solution to emerge was the idea of the Travel Data Aggregator, a neutral data broker which enables companies to pool their customer data, together with real-time data about weather conditions in different locations and details of any airline/airport/rail technical or personnel problems likely to cause delays. The data broker would be charged with supplying data to the relevant brands in a way that optimised the delivery and monetisation of an enhanced customer experience, while simultaneously protecting personal data and commercially sensitive information.

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An alternative solution discussed was for airports to allow airlines access to their APIs, so that airline customers could easily access wayfinding data showing them the quickest route to check-in/the toilets/ their gate, via their airline app rather than through the airport portal. After all, customers tend to have stronger relationships with airline brands than with airports and streamlining ways of speeding their transit through the airport is a win for airport, airline and passengers alike.

Both the Travel Data Aggregator and shared APIs are concepts for promoting increased data sharing and collaboration in the interests of a smoother, more satisfying and - for the companies involved - more profitable customer journey.

How would increased collaboration and data sharing actually look?

As a passenger, it’s useful to find out that a flight is delayed before leaving for the airport, but imagine if shared data meant the airline in question could collaborate with local train operators/coach/bus/minicab companies to send their delayed passengers revised travel times to ensure they get to the airport for their new (later) flight time?

And what if an airline could share data about its duty-free sales with duty-free outlets at the airport so that if they run out of a particular perfume or toy on board, passengers have a second opportunity to buy it at a retail outlet in Arrivals?

One real life example of what increased collaboration and data sharing looks like is the Facial Recognition Experiment at Helsinki Airport which Futurice conducted with Finnair and airport operator Finavia. Before arriving at the airport for their flights, Finnair frequent flyer customers who volunteered for the trial were asked to take three photos of their faces and upload them to a central server where the images were converted to untraceable biometric IDs. In return, the project gave these customers a more personalised, “hands-free” check-in experience: as the trial participants queued at the dedicated check-in desk, a ceiling camera took their photo and matched it to the one they had uploaded to the system. The passenger details flashed up on the screens of the check-in desk, allowing staff to greet the passenger by name as they arrived at the desk to start the check-in process proactively. In this instance, the collaboration between Finnair and Finavia helped to enhance and streamline the customer experience of check-in. The experiment also positively impacted Finnair and Finavia’s brand image as customer experience champions and pioneers of new technologies.

If you want to find out more about how to increase collaboration and data sharing in order to put customers at the centre of the travel experience, while maximising revenues, get in touch – you can talk to me on Kenneth.Lindfors@futurice.com or via LinkedIn.

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