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Insights from the London Aviation Festival

The Aviation Festival in London has gone from strength to strength in recent years. Last week’s event was a world-class conference where hundreds of airline and travel technology leaders gathered to share and discuss some of the latest technology trends. OpenJaw attended the event and chaired a number of round tables with senior executives as well as some of our leading clients including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Hainan Airlines and S7 Airlines.

There were a number of key insights that came from the formal session, the round tables and from conversation with our clients that will be impactful for airlines in 2017 and beyond:

Airlines are not Airlines – they are Retailers
The primary need of an airline customer is organising a trip, not buying a flight. Savvy airlines are beginning to sell a full spectrum of offers related to the trip and by doing so they provide convenience and value that ultimately enhances the customers’ travel experience. Carolyn McCall, the Chief Executive Officer of easyJet, was particularly explicit in this area: ‘easyJet don’t see themselves as an airline, they see themselves as an eCommerce platform. Retailing in the future will be about creating a relevance experience and leveraging the best practice from other industries. e.g. supermarkets and consumer packaged goods are a great roadmap for how to create these nice customer centric experiences’.

Airlines must get more Personal
The objective should be to personalise a customers’ experience and by doing so make things as easy as possible in the online customer journey. Personalisation is about offering the right product at the right time to customers based on their prior history and/or current context. This is particularly important in the world of mobile where customers’ are looking to efficiently transact from the palm of their hand.

Retail is not One Size Fits All
Jetstar operate with the same brand across Asia and Australia, and yet their go-to-market strategy is different – often radically different in each market. As Jayne Hrdlicka, Chief Executive Officer of Jetstar, explained, ‘there is a pacing issue with respect to each market, e.g. in Vietnam, the airline uses a mixture of physical shops, mobile app and digital shops to educate customers about getting on board. Whereas in Japan, Jetstar have a comic book character – a big orange panda called Jetta – as their mascot with 12 million followers. The carriers’ distribution channels include the capability to buy airline tickets from kiosks in convenience stores in addition to the usual online channels and sales offices.

‘The Pace of Change for Airlines is ‘Frightening’, so Focus is the Key’
These were the exact words used by the President of Emirates, Sir Tim Clark. Indeed, despite being a self-confessed non-geek, Sir Tim was really emphasising the importance of digital transformation for Emirates. With a huge change management programme underway at Emirates, Sir Tim has hired Christoph Mueller, former Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines and Aer Lingus, to explore how digital technologies can be used to take the cost out of both the ‘back of house and front of house’?

China offers a Glimpse of the Future for Mobile

China, like many other developing markets did not follow the pattern in the West of going from travel agent to PC to laptop to smartphone as their channel to book travel. Many consumers just went straight to the smartphone and have never engaged directly with an airline website. The Chinese technology industry — particularly mobile — has pulled ahead of what we see in the West with the QR code becoming the magic sauce of mobile commerce largely as a result of the rapid adoption of WeChat, the mobile text and voice messaging service developed by Tencent in 2010, with its 700 million monthly active users. As a result, the future of airline retailing will be all about speed, choice and delivery through a single point – your handset.