31/10/2014 - Blogs

The Evolution of the Travel Media Experience

Let’s imagine a world where the airplane was never invented. How different would that world be compared to the one we live in now? The implications are a lot more than initially thought. How often would we see our loved ones? How would business and communications be affected? How long would it take to transport coffee beans from Brazil or electronics from China? Consumer aviation plays a pivotal role in the growth of today’s society and is central to more aspects of our daily lives that we actually acknowledge.

In fact, it is so important that it keeps getting bigger and better. All over the world, demand for air travel is increasing. Passenger numbers are constantly on the rise and airports are being redeveloped to reflect this growth and “to rightfully take their place as the Cathedrals of the 21st century”, as world renowned architect Luis Vidal quotes. At the centre of all this is technology, which is starting to completely transform the entire passenger journey, from the way we book to the way we fly and interact with the airport environment.

From an advertising perspective, airports have always been an important and developing environment to reach global, desirable and affluent consumers in a highly positive and receptive environment. But in recent years, it seems that everything is coming together so that airports become an indispensable part of global communications.

More than half the world’s population will be passing through airports by 2017

Numbers speak for themselves: The International Air Transport Association believes that by 2017, there will be a 31% rise in worldwide airport passenger figures, as these are expected to reach close to 4 billion. This growth will come from both international and domestic travel but from different areas around the globe and in a different way. In the developed world, there will be a higher travel frequency, as trips per inhabitant will increase but emerging markets, like Brazil and China, will grow fast due to a surge in first-time travelers from the new and expanding middle class.

Changes in travel experience

Apart from the growth in numbers, the way we travel is also changing: the average trip length and travel spend have increased by 16% and 28% respectively in the last 4 years. Leisure is growing faster than business travel as we choose to go on multiple short city breaks over traditional beach holidays. Online bookings are close to saturation level having 65% of the market and the move to mobile, being key for future travel, is already upon us.

Mobile is driven by the fact that we are increasingly expecting real-time responses and a higher level of customisation of services wherever we are and at any time, before, during and after our trip. Personalised content that allows brands to deepen customer relationships is beginning to transform the travel experience, delivering different messages at multiple touch points. This presents brands with more opportunity to engage the traveller and to influence and infiltrate their personal experience. Tourist boards such as YourSingapore.com, hotel chains like Intercontinental Hotels and travel operators like TUI are already offering mobile “concierge” services to travellers.

Sharing our travel experiences has never been easier and as a result, new peer-to-peer options have emerged. This has also affected rental accommodation which has diversified in order to meet a larger set of consumer demands. Travellers now directly get in touch with local residents, not only to book their accommodation but to also create an authentic travel experience. Peer-to-peer travelling has increased by +31% in the recent years and brands like Airbnb are now serving thousands of cities across hundreds of countries, having an estimated value of $10 billion.

The aviation industry is also adapting to changes in travel. No-frills airlines, which several years ago introduced a new business model and defined the travel market, are now moving in a different direction. Two of the biggest budget airlines, EasyJet and Ryanair, have announced that they are now offering a new tier of tickets aimed at business travellers willing to pay more for better service. This move is closely related to the fact that over the last few years, companies have sought to trim their travel expenses resulting in the decline of traditional company trips by -10%. With 9 out of 10 senior industry executives stating that no-frills business class can be successful, even the entire concept of budget airlines in now being questioned.

Technology at the heart of travel change

Technology is key to the recent transformation of global travel. Mobile services and connectivity are shaping today’s passenger experience. Mobile bookings are increasing and by 2017, the mobile channel is expected to account for 30% of online travel sales. We are now using our mobiles as boarding passes, as wallets and as personal advisors either receiving intelligent updates on delays or travel changes or recommendations from social travel tools like TripAdvisor. In fact social media is now an integral part of travel planning. 61% of European travellers and 65% of American travellers use social media to plan and advise their traveling. This also covers multiple audiences including luxury travellers. 80% of the affluent read user-generated reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and more than 50% connect with a brand using social media.

But it is important to remember that the quality of mobile services depends on the availability of online connectivity. More and more airports, Like Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt airport, are offering unlimited free Wi-Fi, allowing brands to connect the customer journey and provide a holistic, connected experience. In-flight Wi-Fi is also being offered by an increasing number of airlines which allows to continue targeting travellers even when they take to the air. Technology will essentially enable the transition of conventional advertising and communication into a more integrated experience, utilising mobile, all parts of the journey and beyond.

Big data shaping travel experience

With these changes in travel technology, comes a real opportunity to mine and use data in order to create content that drives effective engagement and thus advertising effectiveness. Dynamic sales and passenger data can influence messaging according to location, time of day, passenger type, destination and footfall. Digital screens built into the infrastructure of airports and other touch points in the passenger journey can be used to drive call to action. Eye scanners and facial recognition can create more efficient and personalised journeys, enabling better use of data engagement.

The cathedrals of the 21st century

All over the world, airports are leaving behind functional stereotypes and are positioning customer experience at the heart of their operation. Space and services are increasing with over $385 billion spent globally on building, redeveloping and modernising the airport environment. Incorporating advertising into their architectural design, airports are one of the few locations where advertising becomes one with the environment. The most recent example in the UK is the redevelopment of Heathrow’s Terminal 2, dubbed the “Queen’s Terminal”, seeing the biggest investment in the industry at $8.2 billion. Covering a total area of 180,000 square metres – around 25 football pitches – it has the capacity to serve 20 million people and house 52 retail units. With advertising built in the original design, Terminal 2 is 100% digital, offering targeted digital networks along with a portfolio of large format digital sites. Gatwick airport has also undergone extensive improvements, including a multimillion media investment by Eye Airports. Gatwick is now one of the main candidates for a new runaway, especially after the rejection of the Boris Island airport plan by the UK Airports Commission.

Meanwhile, airport retail is undergoing itself a massive redevelopment. Recently, Amsterdam Schiphol announced that it will be adding +20% more commercial space using a new approach to grouping retail and food & beverage outlets in appropriate zones. With the global airport retail market set to grow by +73% and reach $60 billion by 2019, advertisers stop using airports as a tactical opportunity and instead make them a strategic priority. In Heathrow’s T5 alone, passengers spend over $450 million per year on perfumes, jewellery and watches, making T5 second only to Bond Street or New Bond Street for many brands in the UK, in terms of productivity and sales per square meter. With an average dwell time of 2.5 hours, airports allow consumers not just to absorb advertising messages but to also interact with brands. Coupled with promotions, passengers can be driven to trial new products and services, thus increasing retail visits.

Future Vision

Not so long ago, airports were built near cities and roads connected one to the other. But what we are already seeing is that this pattern has been turned inside out. Airports are now being redeveloped in order to be fundamental in the way we live, do business and connect. We already have examples of entire cities being formed around airports, representing the culmination of airport evolution and the next phase of globalisation. Songdo in Korea, is a new city built from scratch and connected to Seoul Incheon airport by a 7.4 mile highway bridge. This 10-year development project is estimated to cost in excess of $40 billion, making it one of the most expensive development projects ever undertaken. The future vision is that of an Aerotropolis, a city where the airport will be at the heart of everything, connecting people and goods as well as reshaping the way we live and do business.

The passenger journey is also constantly evolving, being shaped by an increase in travel demand, the emergence of new travel trends, technological advances as well as the redevelopment of airports. At Talon, we believe that this journey is now an environment that can facilitate the ultimate integrated and connected communications. By being able to connect with passengers throughout the entire airport journey, in a way, allows brands to “sponsor” the entire travel experience and achieve a ubiquitous status that very few other media can offer.