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China’s future for the connected passenger
Location: Beijing, China
10 March 2016

Mobile and social media services for airline passengers at ‘Smart Airports’ in China

Despite recent economic challenges, China’s population continues to travel and passengers are demanding more from airlines and airports. Analysis published today by SITA, the global provider of IT to the air transport industry, shows that China’s airports and airlines are responding with higher levels of investment in innovation than found globally. The “Smart Airport” is coming to China.

Nearly three quarters of airports in mainland China (72%) are investing in new technology compared to 58% globally. While airlines in China are spending 38% of their IT budget on innovation compared to a global average of 32%.

China has the world’s fastest-growing domestic flight market and international travel is also soaring. Passenger numbers are expected to rise to 1.3 billion in 2034 - a remarkable 856 million more than 2014[1] - putting pressure on the existing airport infrastructure. However 93% of passengers have smartphones and are keen to use them and other personal technology for their journey. This presents opportunities to airlines and airports to offer services in a different way.

SITA’s analysis shows that passengers’ desire to use their own technology will lead to a major shift to “off-airport” check-in. Passengers want less face-to-face contact at this stage of the journey. In fact, only 28% of passengers indicated a preference to use an airport counter for check-in. More than half of passengers (59%) said they would prefer to use their own technology to check-in for their next flight. In addition, 67% want to use their smartphones for identification purposes and access, including boarding the aircraft and entering airport lounges.

May Zhou, SITA Vice President and General Manager, China, said: “Our global IT surveys cover trends from the perspective of passengers, airlines and airports. We combine this with SITA’s on-the-ground industry experience to provide a unique 360 degree view of technology investment and usage within air travel. We work with airlines and airports across China to identify opportunities, work together and invest in innovative technology that can meet and exceed the expectations of travelers. This is particularly challenging and rewarding during these times of fast-rising passenger numbers.”

As the aspirations of Chinese consumers increase, so does their expectation for a better travel experience. The willingness of passengers to use self-service gives the industry the opportunity to rethink the airport layout and how it manages passengers.

Zhou added: “Change does not happen overnight, it is going to take time for the industry to deploy the infrastructure and services in a way that enables mass adoption by passengers. But change is coming, one area we see this happening is of the development of “Smart Airports” where new technology such as sensors, beacons and business intelligence are used to deliver efficiencies. Investments are now being made. Over the next couple of years, 85% of airports are planning projects in sensor technologies while 82% plan to have business intelligence initiatives for passenger flow in place.”

Airports are also using social media to improve customer service when there are delays and 62% already provide real-time information and notifications via social media.

The report highlights how passengers want to keep track of their baggage. They want to know where and how long before they can pick up their bag when they arrive - 72% want more details, such as carousel and wait time, for bag collection. The industry is responding: currently, only a few airlines and airports provide this information, but in the next few years 86% of airlines will provide baggage tracking notifications and 57% baggage collection information to passengers.

Further insights into how airlines and airports in China can manage the future rapid growth of passenger numbers with smarter customer service and smarter operations are outlined in SITA’s report, which is available in Chinese and English.

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