Mobile commerce, rising customer expectations and sharing "big data" across the industry were key themes at this year's SITA Air Transport IT Summit, held in Brussels on 20-21 June. SITA sees itself well placed to play a key role as the "honest broker" helping the industry to work together.
Speaking at the event, which was co-hosted by Airline Business, IATA director general Tony Tyler flagged the moves the association is making to help its members become more retail orientated with the new distribution standard unveiled at the Beijing AGM. But he cautioned: "To make big changes there has to be recognition and alignment among a sufficient number of stakeholders that there is value to be gained by doing things differently."
Analyst Henry Harteveldt, who heads airline and travel research at Atmosphere Research Group, told delegates about the three emerging trends that will affect airlines: mobile commerce, passenger control, and credibility to be trusted with personal information.
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"In the next three years, mobile will become airlines' most important digital channel. There has been this growth spiral of opportunity that has been brought to market by companies such as Apple and Google," he said. "More than 50% of airline passengers in places like China and Brazil have tablets. But it's not the technology, it's understanding what to do with it."
SITA's chair of the board, Paul Coby, concurred on the importance of airlines enabling their passengers the ability to personalise. "Customers expect to be in control, that's why self-service took off over the last decade," he said. "They ability to customise is key."
Harteveldt urged airlines to use all the data they have available to them: "'Big data' means big opportunity, but you've got to break down the silos between the data and the organisation so that everyone understands the data, how to use it and how to benefit the business."
Vueling chief executive Alex Cruz believes that airlines need to raise their game to the level of other industries: "Google today delivers an experience. We say we deliver an experience but frankly we are delivering a service. We need to get from A to B."
He also made the point that airlines should expect to make a return on their participation in social media channels. I insisted we had an ROI [return on investment] and today we've come up with a way to measure the revenues we're delivering in terms of euro cents per Facebook fan every week."
Fraport's vice president information and telecom Dr Roland Krieg explained how Frankfurt airport had been collaborating with airports such as Munich and Madrid using open access through web services, and Coby called for airports to work closer with airlines: "It's about using the data we've got already," he said. "We don't have to give it all away, but if we were a bit less protective it could make the overall customer proposition better."
Coby says that with SITA being an industry-owned organisation it is well placed to be the "interface" for this collaboration. " We already have already have a lot of the information flows and can work with other industry partners to make them available on open interfaces and be the 'honest broker' that pulls everyone together," he says.