Op-Ed by Ed Wegel, World Airways CEO
Evolving with technological advancements should be at the forefront of strategic planning and development for an industry leader.
For aviation specifically, it is imperative to stay on top of trend forecasts and be prepared to adapt to the needs of the consumers as they become more dependent upon technology.
According to an analysis by the World Economic Forum, over the next decade digitalization in aviation, travel, and tourism is predicted to create up to $305 billion of value for the industry through increased profitability. One hundred billion dollars of that is expected to migrate from traditional players to new competitors.
Looking back over the last 15 years, few would have predicted the devices and technology that have become engrained in our daily lives and habits. From iPhones and easy access to public Wi-Fi to Google Maps and Self Driving Cars, we have quickly become accustomed to an easier way of life thanks to these technological advancements.
By the year 2020, millennials will make up more than half of the global workforce. They are far more likely to travel for work then Gen-Xers and baby boomers and they are already the largest segment of business travelers.
Looking ahead to 2028, millennials will range from 35 to 48-year-olds making room for Generation Z to become the new targets for our industry. Generation Z will be even more technology and mobile-centric, more diverse and far less brand loyal. Their influences shift from traditional forms of advertising to photography and influencers promotions. These shift forces airlines who intend to remain relevant to shift focus from reacting to new technology to anticipating what lies ahead. Over the next 8-10 years, and in some cases sooner than that, airlines will have no choice to adopt, master, and continue to innovate these predicted advancements.
The Smart Device Takeover
This comes as no surprise as it is already commonplace for the majority of consumers to have a smart device. European telecommunications company, O2, produced a study that showed that “telephone” apps on smartphones—that is, using your phone to make actual phone calls—are only the fifth-most-used app among the general public. Phones aren’t used to make phone calls anymore and because of that, easy access to users on board and in flight will be essential moving forward.
The Future Traveler Is Always “On”
The future traveler is always online. Based on the latest polling data, providing the next generation internet access is more important than legroom, reclining angle, or even quality of food. This trend will only continue.
To truly win their hearts you will need internet access. Currently, 73% of millennials say Wi-Fi availability impacts the flights they book and 27% have switched from their preferred airline to another airline with better Wi-Fi options. That trend will only increase over time for Millennials and will be even higher for Generation Z.
Innovations are happening daily at leading inflight internet companies like Gogo and ViaSat. Gogo’s next-generation tech, 2Ku, will boast peak download speeds of 70 Mbps are possible, while future upgrades to the modem will push its capacity past the 200 Mbps per aircraft mark. ViaSat, in the U.S. market, owns satellites providing them with an edge to easily provide fast speeds to the hardest to reach places.
Artificial Intelligence Will Become One of Your Best Employees
Artificial Intelligence, layered over the mountains of data that many airlines and their travel partners are now accumulating, will make sense of this data and use it to deliver amazing customer experiences tirelessly and at scale.
For airlines, the potential of AI is not so much to find new ways and channels to interact. Rather, it’s to reduce the number of actions and decisions passengers need to take throughout their journeys. In other words, AI offers the possibility of making travel genuinely seamless and faster from door-to-door by using super-smart, frictionless, context-aware and predictive capabilities.
Human agents can only know and assimilate so much. And they’re unable to offer a truly personalized response across thousands of customer interactions. Augmented by AI, however, it’s a different story. Whether that’s anticipating a frequent flyer’s seating preference across multiple flight legs or alerting them to factors such as traffic and security queues that may add to travel time. Customers will come to expect personalized amenities such as setting their favorite coffee shop in an airport and preordering their latte to be ready just as they’re arriving, or ensuring a taxi or rideshare is ready and waiting as soon as they exit Arrivals.
Airlines recognize the urgent need for upping investment into AI technologies. Research for the Accenture Technology Vision 2017 shows that 84% of airline executives expect to make moderate to extensive investments in embedded AI solutions over the next three years. That’s amongst the highest level of commitment to any industry. Even more emphatic is the main reason why they’ll be making these investments: more than any other industry, airlines value the ability of AI to provide consistency across all customer interactions.
Messaging Becomes The Primary Communication Channel
74% of generation Z members would rather send a message than make a phone call. As of 2016 messaging app usage on smartphones exceeded social media apps to become the number one app category for consumers. Younger generations are far more inclined to message their friends and colleagues than to call them and they have similar desires for brands.
This far simpler and more transactional communication style is a perfect match for chatbot technologies. Chatbots improve communication speed and reduce airline operating costs. Messages are less formal, unobtrusive, and works within their own schedule. As lifelong digital natives, generation Z has proven to have a special affinity for artificial intelligence, specifically because it mimics their natural tendency toward mobile communication. Chatbots will be a requirement to effectively provide immediate support, concierge services, travel insight, and even booking assistance via messaging and airlines must master this in the next 2 to 5 years.
Cryptocurrencies Will Be Mainstream
Beyond the hype, the unpredictability, and the general media hysteria are underlying technologies that shift power away from banks into decentralized networks that are being integrated into all types of customer experiences as a form of payment. Awareness is driving mass adoption and making Bitcoin and its competitor’s meaningful currencies. Stability is expected to arrive as it matures. Given its shared ownership, a cryptocurrency can become one of the global standards of fiat. Not only should it be integrated as a payment option it may prove to be an exception payment option for international travel.
A dominant cryptocurrency, whether it’s Bitcoin or one of the alternatives, will rise as a major global currency over the next 10 years. Security, low transaction fees, and reduced fraud will appeal to global travelers.
Designed For The Future
Airlines unwilling to stay ahead of the curve will be phased out as consumer behaviors turn into expectations. Before long, the constant use of smart devices and easily accessible high-speed WiFi options in flight will be at the bare minimum of consumer expectations. Airlines committed to enhancing customer service through the optimization of artificial intelligence paired with convenient and concise communication through messaging and the acceptable methods of cryptocurrencies will thrive over the course of the next decade and beyond.