The great and the good of the airline digital world convened in Sitges, Barcelona this week at Amadeus’ bi-annual conference focused on airline direct digital channels. The event began with a stream focused on merchandising through multiple channels. The first guest speaker, Clive Humby from dunnhumby, outlined the ways in which retailers harness loyalty data to segment the customer base using offers of real ‘relevance’. Philippe Der Arslanian from Amadeus explained why the digital sweet-spot for airlines is the yield enhancing persuasion of merchandising techniques combined with the reach, interactivity and intimacy offered by today’s ubiquitous smartphones. Other highlights included airberlin’s instructive presentation on merchandising of food across its flights using local context, a well-recognised supplier and over 18 different meal combinations. John Lonergan from Qantas covered its application of Amadeus’ shopping basket solution and third party ancillary service sales, explaining how the project achieved ROI in a matter of months.
To App or not to App, that is the question
The second stream of the conference got underway with the eagerly anticipated vision of Amadeus’ approach to mobile, delivered by Denis Lacroix. The presentation was structured around five key forces driving mobile strategies today and Denis highlighted the intense device fragmentation airlines must cope with. He cited that there are now 1,000 devices running Android, when it was only 100 in the recent past. Add to this the five current versions of Android that are in existence and developing apps to cope with that complexity quickly becomes expensive – and that’s without considering iOS, BlackBerry and Windows.
The merits of apps vs. mobile websites were covered extensively, with websites offering a cross-platform solution but suffering slow performance and struggling when the mobile network is unavailable. Apps deliver great access to the native functionality of devices such as the video player and a lightning fast experience but fragmentation leads to increased development efforts. Lacroix explained Amadeus has found a third way which is a ‘lightweight’ app running HTML within an ‘app shell’ on the device itself. This approach combined with an optimised data stream back to the server means the best of both worlds for airlines and users.
Pascal Berg from Edgar, Dunn & Company was next to take the stage. He stepped through the rapid innovations happening in mobile payments and the disruptive force of new entrants such as Google and PayPal. In fact, his data showed that bankers believe the new entrants are more likely to drive innovation than the incumbent providers. Another highlight from the mobile stream was Linda Steingrimsdottir of Icelandair who explained how the carrier has gone mobile in just 30 days and has seen a 30-fold increase in mobile check-in, in a matter of months.
Who doesn’t want to maximise?
The final stream of the event kicked off with an interesting presentation from Tim Knowling at KAYAK, who shared the metasearch engine’s impressive growth rates as they reached 900 million unique queries by the close of 2011. Even more astounding was the response to their mobile app, which has been downloaded 16 million times and is positioned number 1 in both the Apple and Android App Stores for travel. Tim concluded by advising airlines to enable booking functionality on mobile sites in order to be able to handle referral business. Other notable presentations were made by Guido Van Til from KLM who stepped us through the airline’s approach to social media and highlighted the success of its unique Meet & Seat feature that allows guests to select whom they sit next to on the aircraft. It has resulted in over 4,000 shared social profiles so far. Kendall Ramirez from Southwest Airlines entertained the audience whilst conveying the impressive story of how the airline engages and delights its customers through each and every touch point – in line with the Southwest brand. Customer focus is the name of the game at Southwest.