Online travel shopping is fast becoming the norm. A massive 82% of bookings in 2018 were completed via a website or mobile app, without human interaction.
And according to the IATA Future of Distribution Report 2016-2021, airlines expect their direct digital channels (mobile apps and website) will produce 45% of bookings by 2021, up from 33% in 2016.
On the flip side, IATA’s report also found that most user experiences on airlines’ direct digital channels, metasearch engines, OTAs and other digital third party platforms are poor.
This represents a major opportunity for airports wanting to maximise on customer engagement…
Rezcomm talks to Andrew Williamson, Commercial Product Manager at Gatwick Airport about plans to encourage direct bookings with a customer-centred approach…
Andrew manages the B2C ancillary and third party products that are distributed on gatwickairport.com. These include flight search, car hire, airport lounges, and Gatwick’s own products such as Fast Track.
The airport has worked with Rezcomm for the last few years, using the Travel product to offer its customers the opportunity to book their flights and holiday services direct at gatwickairport.com.
Currently, the focus is on plans going forward, and how best to maximise the potential offered by the technology.
The airport website as a shop front
The homepage of gatwickairport.com, as you might expect, devotes a whole section to planning and booking flights. It has a good level of engagement from the airport’s customers, with around 200,000 users a year landing on and engaging with this page.
Of this engagement around 75% is UK based. This means that the airport is primarily communicating with its local catchment area, and about flights from Gatwick to a destination. But equally there’s still a segment of the market that is looking to understand, ‘Where can I fly to and from Gatwick?’
Although spend on flights is quite sizeable, the airport is not currently getting as much as it could from this opportunity. The high level of engagement has more potential than is being realised.
Breaking it down
The majority of quality engagement that Gatwick sees on its home page is with flight search. The flight search function is displayed prominently.
When a customer clicks on the ‘Book a Flight’ CTA, they are taken to the Rezcomm booking page in order to continue.
Crucially, Rezcomm’s ‘white label’ page is exactly brand matched with Gatwick’s own website for a seamless transition. While customers are using the Rezcomm portal through the Gatwick website, they trust and understand that they are booking with Gatwick.
Because flight bookings represent the most significant form of customer engagement, this booking page presents the airport with valuable knowledge about its customers. Bookings provide the airport with a high level of detailed information about each user, including booking habits and travel dates, and this is where the true potential can be realised.
The Three Key Elements in Gatwick’s Vision
The airport has three strong objectives in optimising its engagement with the customer, and all three focus on improving passenger experience.
- To improve the online flight search experience for customers.
- To build, develop and use a single view of the customer in order to offer personalised recommendations. This requires knowledge of the customer’s travel dates, which comes through the booking funnel.
- To develop an outstanding passenger experience, and to use this to increase customer loyalty, and more specifically customer advocacy.
Asking the tough questions
The most challenging question that Gatwick, or any airport wanting to benefit from direct sales, has to answer is: ‘Why would a customer want to book their flights from an airport?’
“We know that there’s an awful lot of competition in this space, certainly from the meta search channels and other OTAs, but something that really does fall in the airport’s favour is that we work from the basis of having customer trust.
It’s easy for a customer to go on to SkyScanner and to see a list of 20 different OTA’s that will sell them a ticket, but there is that trust element with the airport and we know from focus groups that our customers say, ‘If anything goes wrong with my holiday or my parking, or if anything goes wrong at the airport, I look to the airport to look after me.’ So I think we’re working from quite a strong foundation.
But I think the opportunity is really whether we can we develop further on that. Can we develop a product proposition to give a tangible reward for a booking and really make that quite clear for the customer? So why book with the airport? Well, I’ve got that trust factor and there’s a reward for me as well.”
Gatwick plans to answer this question with the proposition that every customer who books with the airport will get free Fast Track with every flight.
This promotion is presented in a visible, attractive pop-up:
Header: Free Fast Track With Every Flight
Sub header: Book your flight direct with Gatwick Airport and get a free premium upgrade
(✓) Free premium security - Get off to a flying start and breeze through security
(✓) Free premium passport control – After your return flight get through Passport Control, in a flash
The imagery is clear, backing up the promises given: That the ‘reward’ for booking with Gatwick Airport is use of the premium security lane.
“We don’t know what sort of impact this is going to have with our customers. We know that we have very, very good data, and that we have strong metrics that we will be able to view. So our goal is that over the next month we will first be deploying some improved effects to our site, and then slowly but surely we’re going to be introducing and testing this offer and other similar offers to find out how that changes the engagement with customers. Are we on to something with really developing this product proposition?”
The rollout will focus on the following areas:
- Using the OTA to improve passenger loyalty
- Improving visibility on gatwickairport.com - Once the airport is in a position where the proposition has been developed and tested, visibility is key. What is the best way to leverage social and loyalty channels to optimise engagement?
- Integration to MyGatwick rewards - The airport can use its rewards scheme to list specific offers that it wants to put to its customers in order to drive engagement with them into the flight search.
- More exposure via email and social – These are key channels for improving visibility, loyalty and reach.
- Gatwick Connects - Gatwick is interested in promoting direct flights to and from the airport, but can it also use this as a way to promote connection flights through the London hub?
Gatwick going forward
“This is a high level view of how we see flight searches as a potential growth lever going forward,” says Andrew. “To not only support ancillary revenue for the airport, but improving the passenger experience – can we use that to improve and develop airline relationships as well?”
Rezcomm’s Director of Digital, Victoria Wallace, shares his enthusiasm for engagement and excellent customer experience as a driver of flight bookings:
“A trend that we see at Rezcomm is that it’s not the ‘first time passenger’ at an airport who is likely to buy from the airport. More often than not, it’s someone who has booked through another channel, used the airport, completed their journey, bought parking, returned home, and they really enjoyed their experience. They’ve built up some loyalty and they now understand that the airport offers flight booking as an option. The next time they come to the airport they will book direct.”
Rezcomm create marketplace solutions for airports - to help passengers to buy the travel products they need, and to help airports to meet and understand their passengers, gain passenger loyalty and sell more products. The team currently supports over 25 airports worldwide with best practice and industry knowledge. LGW and other industry-leading voices took part in our inaugural webinar, which can be viewed here: 'Travel Marketing Airport Webinar'.
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