By Justin Erbacci, Deputy Executive Director, Chief Innovation and Commercial Strategy Officer, Los Angeles World Airports
Long gone are the days of airports offering the basics: ticket counters; a place to sit; coffee and a newspaper while you wait for your plane. Travelers today expect an elevated experience across all the touch points in their journey, from the curb to the gate. That means offering better shopping and dining options, clean and efficient facilities, and communicating with passengers in new ways.
Airport guests now expect – and deserve – to be provided with the information, products and services that will help them to have a more pleasant and efficient airport experience. And,with travelers now choosing to use digital channels as their preferred medium to access this information, airports must find a way to meet them where they already are in the digital space. This means, Airports need to establish themselves as digital marketplaces in which guests can find what they need at the tip of their finger.
Rethinking the airport as a digital marketplace involves providing airport guests and stakeholders with the information, products and services they want through the integration and presentation of airport and third-party content and offerings. Here are the five critical steps required to make this transformation a reality:
1. Allow guests to interact with the airport through digital channels that they already use and prefer. Many airports are developing their own app and forcing users to download and use it in order to obtain information and services. An app may be one channel to offer, but airport users are choosing to use many other channels that don’t require the extra – and sometimes annoying – step of downloading yet another app. This is especially true of occasional visitors who don’t want or need a standalone app for one particular airport. Other channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Amazon Alexa, Go Google and more all are being used by passengers already. Airports need to be able to provide their information and services through these channels to reach the greatest audience – where people are already paying attention.
2. Seamlessly integrate and offer airport and third-party content and offerings digitally. An API hub or middleware solution is required to integrate internal and third-party information and services, as well as to publish airport information, products and services that can be consumed, offered and distributed through third-party channels. Such third-parties potentially include concessioners, ground transportation providers, hotels, rental car providers and more. Airport products and services also need to be distributed through third-party channels in order to reach the full range of guests using the airport and to optimize revenue. Airports cannot expect that travelers will always and only go to airport channels when they use the airport. Indeed, many people are going to airline, ground transportation or other apps first. Airports need to collaborate with airlines and other third-parties to get them to help distribute the information, products and services and make sure it reaches the end user, as well as to help increase revenue made selling products and services.
3. Make your information relevant. Some of the key, basic types of information that airport travelers want and must be offered through digital marketplaces include:
• Flight information: Is a flight on time and at what gate or terminal will it arrive or depart?
• Traffic information: How long will it take to get to the airport and what transportation method should I use? Where are the construction impacts to my travel time?
• Parking information and services: Where can I park? How much will it cost? Which lots or full or have spaces available?
• Queuing information: How long will I have to wait in the security or immigration line?
• Map information: How do I get where I want to and how long will it take me to get there?
• Ground transportation information: What methods can I use to get to and from the airport, and how do I order or buy tickets for the services?Some of the key products and services to offer include:
• Smart Parking: Ability to reserve and pre-pay for parking.
• Shopping, ordering and delivery: Ability to search for retail and food and beverage opportunities, to search product catalogues and menus, to pre-order food and retail and to have it delivered to your gate or to your chosen destination outside the airport.
• Special, expedited guest processing services to get them through the airport faster, e.g. curbside greeting and processing services.
• Airport paid lounge products.
• Personalized guest offerings where airports provide guests customized information, products and services based on their provided preferences.
4. Ensure connectivity. For a digital marketplace to work at an airport, guests need to be able to connect to the internet wherever they are. Ubiquitous and free Wi-Fi is an essential offering for a digital marketplace, as is the ability for guests to get connectivity with their preferred cellular service.
5. Understand the data. Strong data management is necessary for airports to be able to collect and present much of the information that passengers require. This often requires the ability to integrate data from various sources. Data analytics are necessary in order to provide predictive information based on previous history. Advanced digital marketplaces will use data and analytics to be able to provide a more personalized offering to guests. As artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to evolve, so will the possibilities for how that data is harnessed and used to influence the airport experience.
At Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), we recognize that the leaders of this digital transformation will be the leading airports of the future. That’s why we are in the process of developing a digital marketplace that will address each of these five elements. Already, LAWA has redesigned its online channels and created several new ones, including a Facebook Messenger chat bot and Amazon Alexa capabilities. LAWA has also developed an API hub, which it is using to integrate and publish LAWA and third-party information and services. Much of the digital marketplace is already available through flyLAX.com, and soon, LAWA will be deploying a shopping and dining service with its concession partner, Unibail-Rodamco- Westfield, in which guests can search for food and retail options or order food for pick-up at the terminal.
LAWA is also working on smart parking capabilities for all its parking facilities, as well as a guest engagement solution to allow the airport to provide more personalized information and services to its guests. At the same time, LAWA has significantly improved its Wi-Fi offering and is about to take steps to expand and improve this service even more. We are also working with the four major cellular companies to improve cellular services in all areas of the airport.
Finally, LAWA has implemented a data management and analytics Center of Excellence to allow it to centralize and optimize this function, and to develop a corporate platform and set of services to do so.
This new digital marketplace will transform how Los Angeles International Airport communicates with its guests, and how guests experience the airport. Our goal is nothing short of a world-class guest experience, and these tools will help us get there.