In a first for the industry, SITA research uncovers strong correlations between IT in travel and the emotional experiences of travelers at the steps along the way.
So it’s official. Technology across the journey correlates very strongly with travelers' emotions, for better or worse. Using Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions, SITA and Air Transport World’s Passenger IT Trends Survey 2015 looks at the travel experience at each step of the journey.
The ground breaking research considers the impact of technology on traveler moods in terms of positive emotions like happiness and excitement, and negative emotions such as anger and anxiety.
Not only that, it demonstrates unequivocally that passengers are eager to embrace technology right across the various journey steps, for very specific reasons, namely, to:
The research shows that passengers widely associate positive emotions with the early steps in their journey where technology usage is a well established and expected part of their experience.
Web and mobile have certainly proven their value in the check-in and booking stages, as the charts show, with 90% and more of passengers experiencing positive emotions.
“People are happy about the travel technology we provide already, but they want more,” says Head of SITA Lab, Renaud Irminger, citing the latest Airline IT Trends Survey statistics, which corroborate the passenger survey research.
“That happiness in the early stages is reflected in an uptake of 48% for self-service check-in used by travelers, which is set to increase to 71% by 2018.”
The implications for continued investment in travel technology are huge – not just in self-service and automation, but in the ability to harness accurate and timely data at every step of the way.
What’s clear from SITA’s IT Trends Surveys is the vast potential of data in determining how emotionally connected or engaged travelers feel. The ability to use this data in a personalized way, to tailor trips, is becoming imperative.
Royal Jordanian Airlines’ CIO, Ashraf Ayoub, underlines the point: “Personalization is a necessity today as it addresses passenger behavior,” he says.
“Importantly, it demands accurate data that can be translated quickly into meaningful and usable information.”
This principle is integral to the industry’s investments. Over 80% of airlines are investing in programs to improve personalization and provide flight status updates by 2018.
At the same time, 75% and 68% of them, respectively, are running major programs in business intelligence and investing in data centers for security and robustness of information over the next three years.
Ayoub believes that tailoring a trip means appreciating the travelers’ perspective. “You need to focus on the entire connected traveler experience and the community that influences that experience. You can’t afford to focus only on your product or technology strategy.”
Allison O’Neill, SITA’s VP Passenger, concurs: “Creating a personalized experience for travelers’ smartphones and tablets, or investing more in self-service solutions at the airport, places airlines in an emotionally positive light for their passengers.
“It's really about having a single source of data and the ability to recognize the passenger context and understand how to tailor what the passenger should receive at that moment in time during their journey.”
She believes if passengers feel they’re viewed in a personalized sense – as opposed to being just a number – it creates a positive emotional experience for them.
“The ability to recognize the passenger at a moment in time, understand what they're looking for, and then how to queue that service or information for them in an appropriate way, is crucial,” says O’Neill.
Then there’s the survey’s second category about IT easing passenger anxiety. “We’ve all been there,” says SITA’s Irminger.
“Boarding pass in hand, you’re all set, but when you reach the security check-point your stomach sinks as you catch sight of the seemingly endless security line.”
“Once through, you find yourself having to rush for the boarding gates and miss out on dwell time.”
SITA’s Passenger IT Trends Survey substantiate the view: 36% of passengers have negative emotions at the security stage and 31% at bag collection.
Not surprisingly, the highest number of respondents showed positive emotions when they are able to relax, so dwell time before boarding and onboard the aircraft received strongly positive ratings of 95% and 91% of passengers.
“So how different would it be if airlines notified their travelers of a delay at the security gates, giving them plenty of time to get through and enjoy their dwell time before boarding?” asks Irminger.
Passengers want that kind of control because it instills a feeling of being cared about and can lead to experiencing fewer negative and more positive emotions.
With 72% of passengers saying they would definitely use flight updates and 63% wanting more details around carousel, wait time and bag collection at the destination airport, it’s obvious that travelers want more of this information to make better-informed decisions.
Does technology make passengers happier?
But Royal Jordanian’s Ayoub is keen to emphasize that while self-service check-in technology is well established, the continued introduction of technologies at other stages of the journey requires careful management to ensure they don’t add to passenger stress.
“There’s a growing pressure on airlines to enhance the experience of passengers at the airport.
“While airline investments can’t directly improve security and bag collection, we need good management to make sure we can keep travelers informed about these. That will result in potential anxiety points being reduced.”
Ayoub underlines that “this is all about collaboration and communication between all stakeholders contributing to the passenger experience at the airport, including airport authorities, border agencies and the airline.
“Everyone has to be in harmony under one objective in order to enhance the traveler experience and ease anxiety.”
That leads to the survey’s third category – passengers’ desire to be kept informed.
“There’s a growing majority of passengers wanting to have services and information,” says Irminger, “which reinforces the hunger for more information. Keeping them up-to-date is one of the best ways to ensure they’re emotionally positive and have a great travel experience.
“Airline staff must be kept informed too, because if they’re equipped with the information, then passengers will also receive it.”
SITA’s surveys show that airlines around the world are investing heavily in their mobile strategy, and that employees are firmly in their sights.
Airline staff usage of smartphone and tablets for work tasks is set to double in the next three years to 73% and 38.9% respectively, according to the 2015 Airline IT Trends Survey.
This will enable meaningful interactions between informed front line staff and passengers, which Irminger believes will result in a positive emotional shift.
Are airlines ready for the connected traveler?
But again, success comes down to data quality and business intelligence. It’s critical that any information conveyed, especially personalized information about the passenger’s journey, is accurate, up-to-date and reliable.
“Data is just the means to an end,” explains Irminger. “As things become more connected through beacons at the airport, combined with all the content-rich data in passenger systems, it all needs to be brought together.
“We need to create business intelligence that makes sure it's information not data that's pushed to passengers. That's what will help the journey not hinder it.” (See: A new era of intelligence)
“In the future,” he concludes, “we’ll see mobile check-in throughout the world, along with global enablement of mobile boarding passes and smartphone application check-in providing the best experience.
“And as we answer passenger demands for more technology across the journey’s steps, we’ll see a better passenger experience driven by more positive emotions.”