Travel managers and business travel agents could be left out of the loop, as airports and airlines – aided by mobile technology – make it easier for passengers to directly access travel information and determine their travel experiences.
Those are key conclusions from Reinventing the Airport Ecosystem, a research report from Amadeus on the future of airport concepts, designs and operations.
Expanding beyond their original function as places where airplanes take off and land, airports are becoming more passenger-centric, according to the report.
That means, among other things, enabling passengers to access travel-related information, improve their travel experience by buying upgrades and add-ons, enjoy a wider range of airport dining and entertainment and experience a productive work environment.
Power to the passenger
“We are shifting the power role back to the passenger,” Patricia Simillon, head of airlines operation strategy for Amadeus, told Travel Market Report.
“When I search for flights, I can sometimes find prices better than our own travel department, so I buy the cheaper flight even if it is not strictly according to policy. That kind of decision-power by the traveler is only going to increase.
“The good travel manager will become a trusted information source and learn to direct travelers to the fastest option or the cheapest option depending on the need,” said Simillon.
The key word, Simillon said, is “trusted.” Everyone in the travel business – airlines, airports, hotels, car rental firms, GDSs, TMCs, employers, travel agencies, credit card companies and more – wants to own the customer, or at least own the customer’s travel profile and travel history.
Traveler access to GDS
Significant changes in air booking and ticketing technology are giving the passenger more control. Today’s road warriors already use mobile portals to book and change their itineraries on the road. The next step, Simillon said, is direct traveler access to the GDS, with no company-approved portal or online booking tool needed.
The level of access will likely be keyed to the traveler’s frequent flier status. Top-tier fliers will have the same ability to book, buy and change tickets in the GDS as the top corporate travel agent. And the travel department could be out of the loop entirely.
Arrival marketing on the rise
Airlines are already developing phone-based systems to pitch local products when travelers arrive at a destination – and the airline already has the passenger’s cell phone number to make the offer. Amadeus predicts airport arrival marketing to cell phones will be a mainstream distribution channel by 2015.
Typical offerings will include restaurant deals, hotel discounts and ground transportation specials. The airline, airport and vendor all get a cut of the revenue. When direct-to-the-customer airport marketing becomes standard, the corporate travel department could become just one more potential source of information.
A business shift
“The name of the game today and into the future is to please the passenger,” Simillon said. “The survivors will be the companies who recognize the need to change and make the changes most effectively.”
It’s not that airlines or airports deliberately set out to undercut travel departments. The shift to passenger-centric business is all about financial success and survival for the airport and airline.
The fight for personal data
Travelers also told Amadeus researchers that they want to control their own personal information. Passengers do not want any single entity to control their data, or to determine the content, the volume or the delivery of travel-related information.
Instead, they want to pick and choose who to trust to provide travel and information. That could leave their travel department out of the information loop.
Take something simple like ground transportation.
Corporate travel departments routinely message travelers on arrival and remind them to use XYZ company, the preferred vendor, from the airport to their hotel. And because cell phone numbers are relatively private, the company can be fairly confident that other providers won’t be pitching competing offers.
But not for long. Airlines and airport-based suppliers are likely to soon be sharing "private" email/phone contact information so they can pitch more products.