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How Mobile is Changing the Travel Experience for Airport Users

25 Apr 2024
Sarah Marks

It goes without saying that mobile is now absolutely integrated into everyday life. You just have to look around you to see how many people are on their phones. But this change has come quickly, and businesses have had to adapt at an unprecedented rate. Mobile visits to retail sites overtook desktop for the first time in 2016. Given that in 2010 mobile accounted for less than 3% of traffic to ecommerce sites, this represents a monumental shift.

Think of it this way: 78% of all ecommerce traffic now comes from mobile. While mobile devices have dominated the market since late 2013, now those people who are accessing the Internet using tablets and smartphones are doing so with more intent to buy than ever before — 66% of retail orders were placed on mobile at the end of 2023.

Airports are catching up with retail by incorporating big data to personalise and improve passenger experience, building customer relationships, and taking advantage of mobile functionality to streamline efficiency. As a result, passenger expectations have jumped.

Passengers now expect to arrive at the airport ready to fly, to be able to pass through security and border control without having to remove personal items, to have the same connectivity in the air as on the ground, and to be able to tailor their travel options — a function for which they are prepared to surrender personal data.

Even way back in 2014, a survey from FlightView found that as many as 53% of U.S. travellers were happy for airports to track their mobile devices to receive real-time updates on departures, security lines, wait times at Customs and ticket counters, and walking times between gates. Now it’s standard practice for passengers to rely on apps, location trackers, and real-time digital information even before they leave home.

At the same time, statistics show that 88% of consumers are less likely to return to a site they had a bad experience on, and 90% reported that they stopped using an app altogether due to poor performance. This is an incredibly high number of dissatisfied customers, and there is still huge potential for businesses to capitalise on consumer conversion simply by creating mobile responsive websites and user-friendly apps.

Airports can improve efficiency within airports through mobile technology while also meeting the expectations of today’s mobile-using travellers.

The rise of the app

Early apps allowed the airport to track passenger movement, capture data, and pass important information to passengers. App functions have since seen a creative revolution, and many airports and partners now have sophisticated apps for travellers.

Travellers can now order food to their departure gate, book lounge time, and even ask Alexa for flight updates, a feature of London Heathrow’s smartphone app. Apps can even be used for wayfinding, as exemplified by Gatwick Airport’s award-winning AR app which uses intuitive maps and 2000 navigation beacons to guide passengers through the terminal.

Customers have, in the past, favoured browsers and websites over apps. Today’s apps are now much better built and more integrated, as indicated by the 39.4 billion app downloads from Apple’s App Store and 110 billion downloads from the Google Play store in 2023.

Bear in mind, too, that social media apps are a powerful marketing platform and messaging apps can be incredibly valuable when it comes to customer support. The top 5 downloaded apps worldwide in March 2024 all fell in these two app categories, with Facebook leading the pack.

The value challenge

Mobile app retention worldwide is low — the average app loses 77% of its daily active users within just three days of its download. Users expect quality and will quickly dismiss an app that fails to deliver. Your app must have slick, relevant functionality that justifies the storage space and that keeps the user coming back.

Retailers have invested heavily in mobile optimisation, encouraging customers to shop using mobile with the development of user-friendly apps. Mobile is now accepted and trusted in so many roles beyond being a means of communication:

  • as a navigation device on the road
  • as a paper-free event ticket
  • to browse the internet and search for things
  • to bank and make payments
  • to order food delivery

Passengers are accustomed to using their mobile phones for a variety of activities, including enhancing their airport experience with independent apps. Mobile Passport Control is authorised by the U.S. Customs to allow travellers to skip border control lines, and MyTSA gives practical tips about packing and ID requirements. Restaurant and parking apps have been available for several years.

This offers a huge move away from the original passive airport app, which saw a slow uptake of mobile check-in less than a decade ago. It underlines a golden opportunity for airports to bring customers on board with their own apps, enhancing passenger experience and increasing ancillary revenue.

The absolute key is usability. The worldwide retention rate of travel apps 30 days after installation is just 2.94%. Today’s airport app should be interactive, integrating everything that creates the airport experience. The very best airport apps make a huge amount of airport data available to their passengers in ways that really smooth the whole journey.

10 ways to improve the mobile experience for travellers

1. Be up to date

Make sure your mobile app is available and functional across all operating systems including iOS and Android.
Dublin and Cork Airports in Ireland originally produced an app that was not Android-compatible. Despite 70,000 passengers passing through the two airports every day, app use fell because the app was not maintained. Additional investment in passenger relations via the app has seen massive improvements in customer interaction.

2. Be local

Offer passengers personalised updates, directions and tips based on their location, destination, and needs.

3. Be accurate

Updates on gate, flight, and baggage collection times must be accurate and in sync with data on airport passenger screens and websites. Passengers must see the data as trustworthy, or they won’t use the app. Include notification functions so passengers can be alerted to updates.

4. Be informative

Provide accurate indoor maps with walk-times and blue-dot function. At Sydney Airport, passengers benefit from maps giving a comprehensive view of facilities including terminals, gates and retailers.

5. Be helpful

Consider geo-tagging. Dublin and Cork airports allow passengers to photograph and tag their car when they park, so they can find it easily on the way home.

6. Be retail savvy

Improve ancillary revenue and duty-free shopping experience with a click-and-collect service, or encourage customer spend by sending enticing offers with parking and fast track tickets.

7. Integrate ancillaries

Include extras such as parking and flight tickets so that the customer is interacting with the app long before arriving at the airport. This in turn provides customer data that can be filtered by a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to offer relevant upselling and cross-selling offers designed to enhance passenger experience once at the airport. Integrated solutions like those offered by Rezcomm provide a seamless user experience and valuable opportunities to enhance customer relations.

8. Design your app for the user

Make sure details of products such as seat assignment are clear. Customers are put off by many apps where:

  • Prices are not displayed until they select a seat.
  • The selection of seats on a flight is limited because most are reserved for elite members.
  • Once selected, the fee no longer appears as a separate item and is merely bundled into the overall purchase price.
  • The selling features of a seat are not immediately obvious or confusing labels are applied. For example, one U.S. airline brands a particular seat “Core” which is undefined and not intuitive

9. Don’t ignore the baggage

Checked baggage presents one of the largest opportunities to boost revenue and improve customer experience. The IATA’s 2023 Global Passenger Survey reported that 87% of travellers would check in a bag if they could track it. It’s a crucial part of a passenger’s journey on an airline, yet it’s too frequently treated as an afterthought by airlines. So make sure baggage information and options are easily accessible via your mobile app!

10. Simplify and Enhance the Experience

The real goal is to provide a way in which passengers can use their mobile for all sorts of functions throughout their journey, with seamless usability whether they are using iOS, Android, tablet, watch, or other device. Functions can range from finding out what to have for breakfast to what to do if a connection is missed.

A reminder about the responsibility of data management

The importance of correct data storage and privacy was flagged up loud and clear in 2018 when the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect, and it’s a very relevant to any aspect of your digital strategy.

The aim of the GDPR is to give individuals control of their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU. Personal data according to the GDPR is any information relating to an individual that would make it possible to identify that person. This can be anything from a name, a home address, a photo, an email address, bank details, medical information, or a computer’s IP address.

The regulation applies if the data controller (business that collects the data from the EU residents) or processor (business that processes the data on behalf of the data controller, e.g. Cloud service providers) or the individual is based in the EU. The regulation also applies to organisations based outside the EU that collect or process personal data of EU residents.

With any digital strategy it is vital to comply with data regulations. Not only does this protect the traveller, it also increases trust, encouraging passengers to share their data. By partnering with an industry expert like Rezcomm you can be confident that the customer data you hold will be securely stored.

Strengthen your mobile strategy with Rezcomm

Rezcomm is the technology partner of choice for leading airports worldwide. Download our brochure, watch our video, or get in touch to find out how our in-depth industry knowledge and world-first integrated airport ecommerce platform will give you the tools to offer a world class passenger experience and build revenue with mobile.