Air Travel – the state of play
By every measure, the coronavirus pandemic has decimated the air travel industry.
But a fight back of sorts is underway, as you would expect from a multi-billion dollar industry with its livelihood at stake. Rapid advances in safety/hygiene measures from the airport/airline sectors are being reported thick and fast.
The grim reality, however, is that any return to 2019 levels of business for airports and airlines is likely to be a few good years away.
For many aviation industry players, there has been a strong realisation that some of the time-honoured methods used to keep travel-related revenues growing pre-COVID are no longer fit for purpose. However, an alarmingly large group of stakeholders remain in denial about it – referring to previous industry resilience to crises. This attitude must change, and fast.
Persuading people to fly again
We might well see an abundance of airline deals in the short term. The medium and longer term outlook, however, suggests significantly increased flight prices. So much work needs to be done – and heavy investment made – to justify this and drive passenger numbers forward.
When the time is right – and that time is not far away – there is arguably a strong case for a cross-country advertising, PR and social media campaign from airports, airlines and governments to get safety messages comprehensively through to the consumer.
A co-ordinated, large scale and concentrated campaign of this nature will play a key role in getting those ‘confidence to travel’ levels up. The air travel industry not thriving again is simply not an option.
Meeting the needs of the ‘new’ air passenger
Safety advances and their communication aside, those airlines that manage to remain in business must urgently consider the needs of the ‘new’ air passenger. Carriers are now faced with major decisions on how to adapt their product, their customer experiences, practices and operations.
These crucial decisions are being made against a background of rising internet use for making purchases and communications – accelerated by the COVID-19 situation – among other things.
So how will the different passenger groups’ attitudes and requirements differ from what we have seen before? And which major areas do airlines need to focus on to get the passenger graph back on a steady upward curve – not just in the short term, but beyond?
Generation Alpha/Generation Z, Millennials
The future for the airlines simply has to be digital to reflect the way of life of our younger generations.
By the end of this decade, digitally-equipped and savvy Generation Z (those born between the late 1990’s and early 2010’s), is forecast to become the largest global airline passenger group, and they need urgent attention. Meanwhile, long-time, tech-obsessed Millennials (aged between 24 – 37) already make up about a quarter of the world’s population. Their children – Generation Alpha – are automatically immersed in the digital world.
The airline industry’s original foray into tech saw seat back screens installed across thousands of aircraft. But those that remain in place will be largely redundant because their original purposes have been outmoded and people will simply not want to touch them in the COVID-19 era.
The new generation of air passengers are already bringing multiple tech gadgets on to planes and they want – and expect – to use them inflight. They have digital needs which extend far beyond binging a box set or watching an old movie. And herein lies an important new focus for the modern airline.
Here are some key thoughts and ideas on the digital hooks to reel in this potentially lucrative younger passenger revenue stream:
- Services need to be delivered pre-departure and onboard through digital communication – things like seats, upgrades, duty free shopping, transfers and booking destination trips while inflight, for example.
- The very young flyers have short attention spans – they must have their connectivity for their gadgets to have access to bite-sized content, such as Youtube and online gaming.
- Adult Millennial passengers must have uninterrupted access to communications, including news, email and social media and be able to stream any form of digital content.
- Traditional airline loyalty programmes need a rethink – points could be converted to family connectivity, streaming packages, even duty free product – not just other flights (if available!).
- Stable horizontal surfaces, multiple charging points (easily accessible ones) and storage bins in which to keep wires, cables, headphones and other tech-related paraphernalia are urgently needed as standard on aircraft.
37 – 55 year olds
This age bracket will generally be keen to get back to travel when it is deemed safe to do so. The flying ‘experience’ is generally not as important for those in middle age. That is not to say that they wouldn’t embrace change – but that strong message of safety is paramount for this big spending group.
Connectivity, meanwhile, remains an important issue, and many of the digital requirements of the younger generations apply.
A huge chunk of flying spending has traditionally rested with this category. However, even a brilliantly communicated air travel safety message may not be persuasive enough for a high percentage of this ‘grey’ market, many members of which may have underlying health conditions.
As a result, billions of dollars of spending may well be lost to the airline industry – and the wider travel sector – forever. It urgently underlines the need to meet and exceed the flying experience expectations of the younger generations.
The business traveller
More than a billion people have realised that it is possible to work from home, as they have been forced to do in the COVD-19 climate. For many reasons, you can generally no longer easily enforce people, as an employer, to travel.
But, in some way, the new way of working will benefit both short and long haul business travel. It is easier to establish overseas business relationships through Zoom and other ‘live’ video platforms. Those relationships could eventually become travel – especially when people are 100% confident to fly once again.
Greater personalisation and connectivity top the list of other imperatives to build the business traveller market once again.
Tomorrow’s traveller will demand a genuine, fully connected travel experience, with a seamless transition from ground to air and back again. Achieving this will require much greater collaboration from all stakeholders in the aviation industry – the quaternity of airports, airlines, retailers and brands – with digital development and connectivity the number one commercial priority.
Harvesting data on the consumer, their purchases, expectations, preferences and behaviours will provide significant insight into what actions can be taken to get people to want to – and enjoy – travel again. Data will be the glue that keeps the airlines moving forward.
Finally, it must be emphasised that serious money has to be spent on better communication – including more effective use of social media – about the new ‘experience travel’ which simply must be created if the airline industry is to thrive once again.
There is no point cosmeticising. The newly-transparent aviation industry needs to adopt new thinking – not legacy management thinking – and make vital leaps on the digital front. Sweeping changes must be made now to maximise income from, and grow, key passenger groups.