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London Gatwick: The Future of Flight Search

1 Dec 2021
Marc Ive
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Online travel shopping is fast becoming the norm. According to the latest figures, 90% of travellers research holidays online, and 82% book their holidays online without any human interaction.

By 2023, an estimated 700 million people will book their holidays online. Statista also reports that the online travel agent market size will reach over 833 billion US dollars by 2025.

While this all sounds promising, especially after the curveball thrown by COVID-19 in 2020, a report by the IATA shares that most customer experiences on airlines’ direct digital channels, metasearch engines, OTAs and other digital third party platforms are poor.

It’s excellent news for airports, providing a significant opportunity to increase customer engagement and develop strong passenger relationships to compete for direct bookings and loyalty.

Encouraging direct bookings at gatwickairport.com

A fantastic example of an airport capitalising on this opportunity is Gatwick Airport. Rezcomm previously spoke to Andrew Williamson, Commercial Product Management at Gatwick Airport, about encouraging direct bookings with a customer-centric approach.

Andrew manages the B2C ancillary and 3rd party products distributed on the Gatwick Airport website. These products include flight search, car hire, airport lounges, and Gatwick’s branded products, like Gatwick Fast Track.

Over the last few years, Gatwick Airport has used Rezcomm’s Plug-and-Play Airport Marketplace, and more specifically, our Travel modules, to offer customers the opportunity to book their flights and holiday services directly at gatwickairport.com.

Currently, Gatwick’s focus remains on planning for the future and how best to maximise the potential offered by airport technology,

Transforming an airport website into an ecommerce storefront

As you might expect, the homepage of the Gatwick Airport website devotes an entire section to planning and booking flights. It has a good level of engagement from the airport’s customers, with around 200,000 users per year landing on and engaging with this page.

Of this engagement, around 75% is UK-based. This statistic shows the airport primarily engages customers in its local catchment area, about flights from Gatwick airport to a destination it serves. But at the same time, there’s still a segment of the market looking to understand where they can fly to and from Gatwick Airport.

Although customer spending on flights is relatively sizable, the airport still has room to improve its online sales figures and get more from this opportunity. With such a high level of engagement, there’s more potential than is being realised.

Breaking it down:

The majority of quality engagement that Gatwick sees on its homepage is with flight search – a search engine function that is displayed prominently on the website.

When a customer clicks on Gatwick Airport’s ‘Book a Flight’ CTA button, the site takes them to Rezcomm’s booking page to continue the buyer journey. Crucially, this ‘white label’ page design matches Gatwick’s branding and website for a seamless transition. While customers use the Rezcomm portal on the Gatwick website, they trust and understand they are booking flights with Gatwick.

Flight bookings represent one of the most effective forms of customer engagement, and the booking page presents the airport with valuable knowledge about its customers. Each booking supplies a high level of detailed information about each customer, including their booking behaviours and travel dates. This valuable data source is where the airport can realise its true potential.

Gatwick’s vision: 3 key elements

Gatwick Airport has three strong objectives in optimising its customer engagement, and all three focus on improving the passenger experience.

  • To improve the online flight search experience for customers.
  • To build, develop and use a single view of the customer to offer personalised recommendations. This objective requires knowledge of the customer’s booking habits and travel dates through the booking funnel.
  • To develop an outstanding passenger experience and use it to increase customer loyalty and brand advocacy.

Asking the tough questions:

Gatwick, or any airport wanting to benefit from direct sales, has to answer the most challenging question: why would a customer want to book their flights from an airport?

Andrew explains:

“We know that there’s an awful lot of competition in this space, certainly from the metasearch 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 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.”

The proposition

Gatwick incentivises its customers to book directly with the airport with an attractive proposition. Customers that book direct get free Fast Track with every flight. Gatwick presents this proposition in a visible, attractive pop-up on the Book Flights page. The header captures users’ attention with ‘Free Fast Track with every flight’, and the subheader clarifies the call to action and incentive: ‘Book your flights direct with Gatwick Airport and get a free premium upgrade.’

Underneath, there are 2 checkboxes:

  • (✓) Free Gatwick 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 and backs up Gatwick’s promise that it’ll reward customers booking flights directly with the use of its premium security lane.

The result

Andrew says:

“We know that we have very, very good data and strong metrics that we will be able to view. So our goal is that over first month, we will be deploying some improved effects to our site. Then slowly but surely, we’re going to be introducing and testing this offer and other similar offers to find out how that changes customer engagement. We are really on to something with developing this product proposition”

Key objectives:

The rollout of Gatwick’s vision for Flight Search focuses on the following areas:

  • Using Flight Search and Rezcomm’s Travel modules to increase direct sales and improve passenger loyalty
  • Improving visibility on gatwickairport.com – once the airport has developed and tested its proposition, visibility is key. Gatwick needs to discover the best ways to leverage social media and other communications to optimise engagement.
  • Integrating with MyGatwick rewards – the airport can use its reward scheme to list specific offers that it wants to put to its customers to drive engagement with them in Flight Search.
  • Increasing email and social media exposure – these are critical channels for improving visibility, loyalty and reach.
  • Optimising Gatwick Connects – The airport is already promoting direct flights to and from the airport, but can it also use this as a way to encourage 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 to improve the passenger experience – we can 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 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.”

Are you feeling inspired by Gatwick’s future of Flight Search?

If, like Gatwick Airport, you are looking to use travel marketing to develop strong customer relationships and increase direct flight sales, Rezcomm has the solution. Our Plug-and-Play Airport Marketplace comes with a host of flexible and scalable travel modules to position your airport as the go-to booking source. Sell flights, hotels, holidays and other travel ancillaries to customers in a single basket, and offer a seamless checkout process to ensure a great customer experience.

Partner with us and transform the future of airline websites, build attractive propositions, gain customers’ trust and transform your airport into a competitive OTA in its own right. Get in touch with Rezcomm to find out more.

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