Apps and IoT can make travel personalized and enjoyable, again

According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), global business travel spending “is forecast to reach $1.6 trillion by 2020.” And even while a growing number of people pack their bags for leisure and business, the experience of getting to their destination - in particular, flying - remains largely unchanged. Airports can be stressful and frustrating, with cumbersome security checks, long queues, overcrowded lounges, and long waits.

Consumer experience in the travel industry has suffered, as airlines have failed to achieve the required personalization. Even though it has been a consistent aspiration of the travel industry, it has fallen short when compared to say, retail. Could apps and the Internet of Things (IoT) be the key to introducing this much needed personalization, and reduce the stress of travel? The univocal answer is yes.

ChillTravel, a smart skin company that is set to launch soon, is working in this direction. It has created a smart skin called ChillWrap which allows users to wrap their luggage with ChillWrap, just as they would do with plastic wrapping, and pair their baggage with their phone using SITA WorldTracer. This enables users to know when their baggage is being manhandled, is on the carousel, or even stolen. And with 1.5 million bags lost or stolen, 3.5 million bags damaged and 16.6 million bags delayed each year, the potential for ChillWrap to play an informative role for travelers is significant.

Even as travelers get a grip on their baggage, airports are getting bigger, crowded, and confusing. SATS, the ground-handling and in-flight catering service provider at one of the largest transportation hubs in Southeast Asia, Singapore Changi Airport, recently launched an app that allows users to navigate around key airports, not just in Singapore, but in Thailand, Japan, and Hong Kong as well. Passengers can access real-time information on directions, insurance, and more while at the airport.

Data from sensors at an airport can analyze the large number of processes underway and improve them - right from check-in, baggage movement, security, immigration, cabin conditions, arrivals, till post-travel. And airline companies seem to agree on the potential of data. According to the SITA 2015 Airline IT Trends Survey, 86% of airline companies believe IoT would provide “clear benefits over the next three years.” It can definitely reduce human intervention in repetitive tasks, simplify security, hasten passenger movement at airports, and thus enhance customer delight.

For a schedule-driven location like an airport, IoT can make processes - right from the time the passenger enters the airport to when they depart from the destination airport - much smoother and convenient. For instance, a passenger could receive a notification on his or her smartphone or smart watch on directions to the check-in lounge as soon as he or she enters the airport. Details about the weight and cost of baggage could also be mailed over. Periodic updates could be provided on the movement of his or her baggage and its location. The passenger can also receive directions to the security check at the airport, be informed over a voice alert on things that are allowed or not allowed on the flight, specific products could be named if the passenger has been found with them on a previous trip, and if there are any changes in the airport rules. At security, the passenger could go through a facial recognition scan and receive a notification when it has been successfully cleared. If a concern is raised, the passenger could receive a notification with the name of the personnel they will be interacting with to resolve the issue. After security clearance, a voice notification can guide the passenger to the boarding gate, inform on the number of minutes left for boarding, and if the passenger is early, advice on things that can be done. At the boarding gate, the passenger can swipe smart watch or smartphone to allow the flight attendant to immediately recognize the passenger by name and guide him or her to the designated seat. Passengers could also receive updates in route about the flight, arrival time, weather and time at destination and more. The 2017 SITA Passenger IT Trends Survey cites that passenger satisfaction grew with the introduction of self-service technologies, such as biometrics.

Besides keeping passengers informed, I see IoT and apps enabling airport personnel to access extensive information as well, right from updating the flight attendant on a check-in to enabling them to personalize the inflight experience for passengers, manage baggage and to continue interacting with passengers long after their flight.