A Look Back on World Passenger Symposium 2017

Posted by Robin Hopper on November 14th, 2017 | Blog, Conferences & Events

A hectic fall event schedule had me at IATA’s World Passenger Symposium 2017 in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago.  The event is unique in focusing on a driving the passenger agenda forward by bringing together the entire air travel value chain under one roof with separate tracks running on Distribution and Payments, Technology and Innovation, and Passenger Experiences.  ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

For me, the biggest standouts at the event were the collaborative initiatives (and general camaraderie) going on in the industry.  In a previous role, I had a taste of this supportive culture. When I worked with a company that developed safety and compliance solutions for airlines, competitors worked closely together sharing best practices and more. When it comes to passenger safety, that collaboration is to be expected but at WPS 2017 that same spirit was front and center around innovation, openness and passenger experience.  Spotlighted initiatives included:

  • NEXTT (New Experience in Travel & Technologies) – a collaboration led by IATA and the Airports Council International that is focused on improving travel technology and cutting out excess steps through the entire passenger journey
  • NDC support updates from Sabre, Amadeus, Travelport and collaboration between SITA, ATPCO, Air Canada and British Airways.
  • Inflight Connectivity, Entertainment and Retail and Payment Processing Collaboration to allow passengers to achieve the same user experiences they have with terrestrial retailers while in the air.

Tnooz’s Marisa Garcia wrote a great article summarizing these initiatives much better than I can…  

From a Guestlogix perspective, a couple key takeaways and soundbites included:

  • Innovation: Glen Morgan, Head of Distribution of IAG summarized it best when he described the need to move with much more “speed and agility”. He talked about how Uber, Amazon, AirBnB and others continue to trail blaze customer experience, continuously adapting to consumers’ needs in real time, with lucrative results. But as one of the most highly regulated environments, air travel has remained comparatively stagnant. Passengers expect to receive the same service in the air as on the ground, and thanks to these disruptive brands, their expectations are now sky high.
  • Payments: APEX Association CEO, Joe Leader, extended that notion to the area of onboard retail talking about how “if you force a customer to pull out a credit card, you’ll lose half of them.” The same frictionless payment options that exist in retail today need to exist for passengers throughout their travels.
  • Rethinking Retail: Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, caught my attention when he talked about the challenges retailers face in airports.  Speaking specifically about duty free, he said that he has 24 minutes to try and influence a traveler into the airport duty free shopping area. He compared that short amount of time to the 12+ hours the average traveler spent in a plane on the way to the airport where they could/should be able to make those purchases.  
  • Customer Centricity and Personalization: A number of talk tracks obviously circled back to personalization as a key element in improving passenger experience.  Airlines have been supply focused rather than customer centric and approaches to self service have attempted to offload the more arduous parts passenger service with little focus on improving or easing the experience.  To bring back the romanticized era of travel in the modern, commoditized world will require personalization at all touch points and that can only be done cost effectively leveraging data, AI and machine learning.

I also had the opportunity to be on the “Future of Onboard Revenue” panel chaired by Joe Leader, CEO of APEX, along with leading airlines and suppliers in the industry. We discussed methodologies to secure new ancillary revenue sources in flight while simultaneously increasing the passenger’s experience.  

The recurring themes from the conference wove their way into this session: personalized offers, the importance/challenge of connectivity, taking advantage of customer data, etc.  But I continued to focus first on passenger experience (or “guest experience” as someone suggested to me) rather than the revenue itself.  The entire day of journey is filled with stress for most passengers but with the right offer at the perfect time, a passenger could be willing to part with their money to help relieve the stress.

“In-the-Moment Choices” as we’ve coined them at Guestlogix, will help the passenger to feel more in control of their trip and allow them to customize their journey.

Shameless Plug: We dive further into this in our latest whitepaper that we unveiled at WPS! Help yourself to a copy of  “The Empowered Passenger: Break the Cycle of Learned Helplessness to Drive Customer Satisfaction and Higher Revenue”

With IATA’s WPS all wrapped up, we’re only one event away from the end to our  2017 event season! My colleague Bipin Majevadia will be attending Terrapin’s Aviation Show in Menasa from November 28-29.  He’ll be tackling this one solo so if you’re attending the event or will be in the area, reach out to myself or him to let us know. He’ll be looking for some company!

Stay tuned for our 2018 event line up – coming soon!