The future of Airport IT

Both airports and passengers are increasingly adopting new technologies that will eventually create a new passenger journey - one that is characterised by self-service and connectivity throughout the entire journey. Connected people in combination with connected technology is reshaping passengers’ expectations as internet-enabled services become the driver for a new airport experience. Knowing passenger expectations and preferences will help you drive transformative change in the end-to-end airport journey.

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Invest in passenger-centric airport IT

The progression of new technologies and the continuous adoption of game-changing technology initiatives spark a requirement for specific investments into airport IT. Over the next three years, passenger self-service will continue to dominate airport IT investments with two-thirds of airports planning major IT projects in this area.


The demand for self-service across all stages of the airport journey is being responded to at an increasing pace. For example, self-service passenger check-in using kiosk is accessible to such an extent that it has now become universally available with nine in ten airports offering it in 2016. However, investing in passenger-centric airport technology is not synonymous with kiosk implementation. What will drive airport IT investments for the next years will be focused on the most common device among passengers; the smartphone.


83% of passengers carry a smartphone when they are at the airport. It opens for the possibility for you to extend your existing services to new channels, and to deliver new services such as mobile airport navigation and real-time flight updates.

Digital migration towards a unifying technology

Airports must strive to connect with their passengers through every stage of their journey, providing them with the most desired self-service features through their preferred channels and on their preferred devices. Not surprisingly, face-to-face interaction between passengers and airport personnel is on decline as the trend head towards digital.


With its significant penetration amongst passengers, the smartphone is undoubtedly emerging as the unifying technology for passenger self-service. Despite the high penetration, smartphones have yet to fully function as a travel tool beyond entertainment. Airports and airlines must deliver services that empower such transformation. It calls for investments into a mobile channel that serves passengers better while allowing airports to utilize the opportunities it brings.


However, while self-service technology becomes increasingly important at all stages, the requirement for staff support will still be present to ensure that new airport IT initiatives do not inflict stress and frustration. Having a transition plan when introducing new airport technology is vital for dealing with potential pitfalls until passengers have obtained a high level of familiarity.


As passengers are increasingly becoming used to self-service, substituting a stationary self-service channel with a mobile self-service channel becomes easier. Referred to as the ‘substitution effect’, passengers that use self-service today have a higher propensity to try different new technologies for the same step. This makes the transition from kiosk self-service to mobile self-service all the more easy. As an example, 91% of passengers who currently use self-service check-in would turn to another type of self-service rather than to face-to-face. At the same time, mobile apps is the fastest growing channel for check-in and 92% would find mobile check-in easy to use.


With a growing base of people who see their travel needs being better served by their mobile device, the smartphone will inevitably become the focal point for new and transforming passenger services.

Key determinants for airport technology services

As mobile technology stands to represent a transformation in the airport experience, passengers are demanding new and smarter services from your airport. Airports are investing heavily in passenger processing with the aim of managing throughput, while ensuring that passengers have a great experience.


Airports are rolling out new technologies that speed up processing and keep passengers better informed, all while driving incremental revenues. Once the passengers are in the center of a new airport technology, two determinants must be fulfilled in order to create a sustainable adoption rate of the new initiative.


The two key determinants in encouraging new people to adopt travel technology is “usefulness” and “ease of use”. It is of such high significance that “ease of use” can increase kiosk adoption by 86% and mobile check-in by 59%. “Usefulness” can often be identified by looking into what new services passengers are demanding. Recently, the trend has shifted towards very specific mobile services, which we will return to later. But what is important to remember is that in all passenger-centric IT investments, these two determinants must be in focus.

Self-service airport technology sparks positive emotions

Digital airport services is reshaping the travel behaviour of today's passengers. A strong preference to use their own technology for self-service in every stage of the travel journey empower passengers to prepare and plan for travel at their own pace. But like with any travel, stress and frustration can easily be triggered.


Passengers’ emotional extremes during a journey compared with their use of own device for self-service creates the emerging pattern that passengers associate positive emotions with those stages in which their own technology is used for self-service. Once passengers are using mobile for one part of their travel, they are also more inclined to use it on their further journey.


Using check-in options as an example, it becomes evident how technology improves the mood of passengers. 97% of passengers who used web check-in had a positive experience compared to only 83% of passengers using the airport desk. Self-service kiosk sparked a 92% positive experience among passengers, while 90% of passengers had a positive experience using a mobile app.


The figures support that self-service technology has a positive impact on the travel experience for almost all passengers. Contributing to this positive impact is the transition plan aimed at avoiding potential pitfalls along with fulfilling the two key determinants mentioned. This will in turn reinforce the level of acceptance and adoption of the new airport technology and result in a higher adoption rate. And by deploying the right sensor technology, you can even generate incremental revenue from your services.

Bluetooth beacons support mobile self-service

Sensor technology at airports are increasingly supporting passenger processing while creating valuable insights. As new technologies like Bluetooth beacons become commonplace in airports, they present a great opportunity for airports to engage with their passengers directly. It becomes a means to provide efficient and highly targeted services.


Nearly half of airports (48%) are implementing sensor technology such as Bluetooth beacons and Wi-Fi positioning over the next three years. Over time, it will become increasingly common for airports to have planned end-to-end beacon deployment mainly focusing investments on outbound passengers from check-in to boarding, where pain points are commonly more critical.


We already see that sensor technology has been implemented in the security checkpoint area in around 25% of airports, which is up from 17% last year. We also see that sensor technology has been implemented in retail areas, bag drop and border control in more than one in ten airports. Forecasting the development over the next three years, implementation of sensor technologies will become commonplace in all these areas. For example, increasing from 15% deployment in retail areas today to 60% within the next three years.


Beacons will help you drive incremental revenue as the technology enables you to deliver location-aware content. This is one of the reasons why 74% of airports are anticipating piloting context and location-aware mobile apps for passengers within the next five years.

Passengers demand mobile airport navigation

A digital migration in airport passenger services along with the deployment of beacons not only expands the number of touchpoints, but also enables airports to develop further on those critical touch points at which passengers request more assistance.


Among the best ways to deal with critical pain points is to provide passengers with beacon-enabled indoor navigation. Mobile airport navigation is one of most demanded new mobile services with it being in the top of the passengers’ wishlist. 57% of passengers would definitely use it, while an additional 35% would consider using it.


Creating an airport app with indoor navigation also enables you to integrate several other wanted passenger services in a way that creates additional value compared to if they were standalone services.


Use your airport navigation app to deliver real-time flight updates that in case of gate changes provide your passengers with the fastest route to their new gate - right inside your airport app. And as deployment of sensor technology in retail areas will rise to 60% of airports worldwide within the next three years, Bluetooth beacons and other sensor technology allow you to utilize your passengers’ location inside your airport to deliver context and location-aware advertisements and offers to them directly.


How passengers use their smartphone in your airport provides you with opportunities for interaction, but also comes with some passenger-driven expectations for what mobile services you need to offer as an airport. On top of their wishlist for mobile services you will find flight updates and indoor wayfinding.

Five important airport IT trends

  1. Passengers migrate from face-to-face interaction to self-service across all stages from booking to boarding.
  2. Technologies are reshaping the travel journey and is moving towards the smartphone as the unifying technology that will deliver a new and connected end-to-end airport experience.
  3. Deployment of Bluetooth beacons in airports generates opportunities to support both your business and your passengers.
  4. “Ease of use” and “usefulness” are the key determinants when investing in passenger-centric IT services. Fulfilling those will drive up your adoption rate significantly.
  5. Passenger demand for new mobile airport services is strong: Mobile airport wayfinding and flight updates is among the most desired features.

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