Digital Strategies Airlines Can Use to Create a Customer-Centric Travel Experience

Deploy emerging tech to provide personalised experiences and drive loyalty, says Steve Tan, director of Urban Airship. This article originally appeared in UK-based Travolution.


Holidays offer an escape from the stresses of everyday life. Although we crave our time away from home, travel can be hectic, confusing and uncomfortable at times.

Traditionally, holiday-goers have accepted these hiccups as unfortunate precursors to reaching their destinations. But in a sector where technology is constantly changing the customer experience – think online check-in to reduce airport queues and facial recognition to save time at passport control – travel brands now have an opportunity to take even more of the stress away.

Some airlines are now combining stored customer intelligence such as layover location/duration, and loyalty information including air miles, with other data sources such as up-to-the-minute flight times, weather APIs, and airport information including terminal maps, gate distance and tips to avoid crowd congestion. Doing so enables them to create a hyper-personalised customer experience that acts as a digital concierge on the one screen they never leave home without.

>> Related Article: Travel Trends for Mobile Marketers: 5 Stats That Show the ROI of a Mobile-First Approach

Smartphones are becoming a significant influence on the travel sector; a study from Google found the average consumer has 2.3 travel apps on their device, 58% of which are used on a monthly basis. So, by proactively serving information to consumers’ smartphones through any preferred channel – app, website, boarding pass, SMS, Facebook Messenger, etc. – airlines can enhance the entire holiday experience and become a trusted travel companion for today’s consumers. Understanding where and when to engage, according to each individuals’ preferences and the urgency of the information, are core challenges.

Here are several digital strategies airlines can use to create a customer-centric travel experience:

Arrive Two Hours Before Your Flight Departs

The holiday experience begins as soon as the booking is made. Airlines can make the most of the time in between booking and departure by delivering time-sensitive notifications in users’ channels of choice that help to make the travel experience as smooth as possible.

For instance, airlines could send check-in reminders to ensure holidaymakers aren’t subject to expensive late check-in fees and or left to wait in long queues at the airport. Customers' time can be saved by tapping into real-time airport information and sending notifications to mobile boarding passes, the app or via SMS to alert them to gate changes or even flight delays. This kind of information not only eases stress but also reduces airport congestion. This strategy is used by Air Canada, which also gives customers voice updates on flight information through Amazon Alexa to keep them fully informed before they leave for the airport.

Please Have Your Passport Open and Your Boarding Pass Ready to Scan

We’ve all been there, somewhere between security and buying a snack you manage to lose your paper boarding pass, and of course you don’t realise this until they call you for boarding. With so much to remember, it’s easy for something like this to happen. Today, many airlines eliminate this possibility by making use of the mobile wallets pre-installed on consumers’ smartphones. Digital boarding passes offer a paperless alternative to give passengers peace of mind, and one less thing to juggle at the airport.

>> Related Resource: Google + Urban Airship: How to Unlock the Upside of Tickets & Boarding Passes With Mobile Wallet

They can also simplify the entire airport experience by enabling users to skip fiddling with electronic check-in kiosks and head straight to security with their hand luggage. Airlines can also send updates on gate numbers or departure times, and even airport congestion directly through the mobile wallet boarding pass.

Tourists increasingly recognise the value of digital boarding passes. Research found more than half (55%) of consumers want to use boarding passes as part of their mobile wallets, and this demand is expected to grow following news that Google Pay now supports enhanced mobile boarding passes and tickets, which means all smartphone-toting travelers now have a common, convenient and streamlined experience.

Please Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy Your Journey

Ultimately, airlines providing regular and relevant alerts on travel information allow consumers to spend less time focused on granular travel details and more time enjoying the journey – whether that’s stopping for a quick coffee or browsing the shops in the terminal.

Going one step further – once the passenger has cleared security, special offers or reminders on redeemable benefits for loyalty program members can be sent, which all works to enrich the valuable time before a flight. This could be anything from discounts on snacks to a coupon for a free sunglasses case or travel pillow. Since mobile wallet passes can integrate with beacon technology, airlines can also track when users have passed through security and take the opportunity to promote nearby dining establishments or provide directions to the business class lounge.

Going forward, we can expect to see greater convergence of digital channels with airport facilities to further enrich the whole journey. Airlines could send notifications to seat-back displays to keep holidaymakers informed of connecting flight details while phones are still in flight-safe mode. Alternatively, airline apps could preview available in-flight entertainment options and drink choices allowing passengers to order ahead the day before travel or while they’re waiting to board.

Please Ensure Your Tray Tables are Folded and Prepare for Landing

Enhancements to the travel experience after the wheels have touched down are also on the way – such as informing the traveller which baggage carousel they can pick up their luggage from, or partnering with local businesses to enhance a visitor’s stay. This could include local taxi providers, car rental, or public transport companies and sharing relevant information with users on the easiest way to get to the city centre.

In the future, airlines could even take the customer experience one step further by integrating new technologies, including artificial intelligence, into the digital concierge service. For instance, an integrated AI assistant could automate the taxi-booking process or alert car rental companies to start preparing paperwork while a holiday-maker is waiting at baggage reclaim. Alternatively, if a passenger is running a couple of minutes late, the AI component could alert public transport companies such as train or coach providers to postpone departure or automatically book space on the next service.

Ultimately, the aim for travel companies should be to make the most of emerging digital technologies to go above and beyond the consumer’s expectations. Providing them with a more personalised and useful service not only enhances the travel experience but also bolsters customer loyalty and retention.

Our strategy team has helped leading travel and hospitality brands build a mobile-first, customer-centric plan that boosts engagement and revenue. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation today to brainstorm ideas for your strategy — and the inside scoop on what your peers will be doing next on mobile. >>

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