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Wendy is an IFE Agent responsible for aggregating airline news specifically related to Inflight entertainment. She compiles stories relevant to business travelers, airline industry folks, marketers and tech geeks. IFE News doesn't create original content, but rather posts compelling editorial from global media outlets.

Applying some Googlezon magic dust to airline retailing

Applying some Googlezon magic dust to airline retailing

Gather a bunch of airline bosses in a room and ask them what they want from technology – the answer doesn’t seem like rocket science.

There are issues around passenger-owning, information-sharing, general collaboration and legacy systems but actually, it feels like some progress could be made without causing a storm.

Naive?

Almost certainly, but in the current climate there seems to be more desire out there than there has been for some time, almost certainly driven by how hard it is for airlines to make money.

At CAPA’s CEO Gathering in Dublin last week, airline bosses put some of their cards on the table and IT executives pushed back in terms of what can be achieved within the framework of the existing technology.

Here are just some of the thoughts drawn from a panel with participants including Aer Lingus chief Christoph Mueller, Ethiopian Airlines chief Tewolde Gabremariam, SITA’s technology chief Jim Peters and Lufthansa’s chief information officer Christoph Klingenberg.

What we can do

Starting with something achievable (hopefully) and within the confines of existing technology.

SITA’s Jim Peters proposes doing a “‘Googlezon” on air whereby the back-end system would analyse previous purchase behaviour and use them to create an offer for the consumer.

“Does any airline today do that? When you phone a call-centre do they know what you’ve just looked at online. There’s a huge amount that could be done.”

There’s potential there and a number of companies track behaviour between website and call-centre by allocating specific numbers to consumers to call which, hopefully, join the dots and help make a sale.

Take it a step further – use the mass of intent that is Facebook’s one billion users to find out what an individual’s travel plans, categorise them and make the user an offer.

This was proposed by airline strategist Nawal Tadeja who thinks the customer of the future will expect airlines to come to them to bid for the business.

However, as pointed out by Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller, this is just a more sophisticated way to put bums on seats and doesn’t necessarily reap further financial reward for the airlines:

“There is no element of merchandising, it’s linking direct sales with your revenue management.”

Joining some dots

Another reasonable but small step would be for airports and airlines to join forces in terms of their mobile applications so that consumers can access everything from the same app.

SITA’s Jim Peters rightly says mobile is going to be a “future battlefield which is going to heat up more”, especially once the idea of Hotspot 2.0 kicks in and retailers increasingly use a user’s location via GPS to push offers to a device.

Passengers can already be tracked via wifi on their journey through the airport but there are gaps in the information which leads to a “lot of islands”, says Peters, adding:

“A lot of the technology is there but there is an issue about data ownership and data sharing. Airports are fixed real estate assets and all the information is there, we can track people’s wifi as they move through the airport but we don’t have all the information about what is incoming.

“The battle is to get the stakeholders to see the benefit of collaboration and it’s about risk versus reward.”

The concept of a more joined-up service from a traveller’s home or office, to and through the airport, is also up for exploration.

It sounds achievable – technology can read a vehicle’s ID plates to hurry high-end customers through the airport by allocating a parking space, or perhaps allowing someone who is running late to opt for a valet parking service instead, alerting security so they can better manage the flow, and so on…

But, here is the barrier, says Mueller: stakeholders are still reticent or “too shy”, as he nicely puts it, to share information.

What if, as proposed by Mueller, you could split a PNR (Passenger Name Record) into a number of buckets of data and provide each party, airport, catering team etc with that relevant source of information.

A super PNR

This is a biggie – the idea of having an open PNR which could enable airlines to offer all sorts of extras to passengers, right down to a cup of coffee on a flight, all within the same transaction.

The limitations of the existing PNR were highlighted as the biggest obstacle holding the legacy carriers back from being able to merchandise more effectively and improve the passenger experience.

Mueller says:

“It is the minimum information possible to put bums on seats. I could envisage an open PNR but it’s not possible because the computer reservation system is bound to the PNR, the number of product combinations is too large and there are elements we cannot file via ATPCO.”

And, it sparked feeling from fellow executives including Klingenberg, Lufthansa’s chief information officer:

“We don’t even get contact information in the PNR. And, don’t blame the GDSs, it’s the travel agent and this is why we have to push direct sales.”

So, it’s not currently possible but there are positive signs of movement in this direction.

Step forward Travelport’s spanking new Merchandising Platform, for example, which enables aggregated shopping on a single screen of services from airlines who file via ATPCO and carriers who provide content via API.

It also enables carriers to highlight their fares and ancillaries on their websites as well as any other indirect channel they choose. The products and services are also integrated into Travelport’s retailing systems so an agent’s workflow is not disrupted.

And, what of IATA’s NDC initiative and, we’re told, there will be something to see, in six months time.

Everyone seems agreed that the pivotal moment will come when airlines can create a product catalogue and the PNR is more akin to a shopping basket with both integrated into the back-end technology enabling airlines to offer bundled services.

Klingenberg says:

“If we were able to build and offer bundles it would be a game changer but our systems can’t handle this.”

It’s not only developments from IT providers that signal some movement, there also seems to be some change in mindset around whether the concept of who actually owns the customer really matters any more.

Kevin Toland, Dublin Airport Authority boss, says:

“It’s an error to think we own the customer, we have a short line of time with consumers. The car parking is a great example.

“That sharing and figuring out that the power is in sharing and it will be about trusting and working things out and it won’t all work but one failure should not stop you.”

And, adds Mueller:

“It’s not very helpful to have a conversation on who owns the customer, we are working with 10 airlines. It is common sense to treat all customers equally no matter where the ticket was bought, seamless travel means it should not make any difference.”

So, it seems like the necessary collaboration and information sharing might also be happening as airlines pull out of existing alliances in favour of more relevant partnerships and begin to overcome their shyness.

NB: Disclosure – travel and accommodation for the author’s attendance at the CAPA conference in Ireland was funded by Travelport.

Read more at http://www.tnooz.com/2013/04/15/news/applying-some-googlezon-magic-dust-to-airline-retailing/#2TRkU5Ybrfm2AaPV.99

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