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As airports all over the world rush to invest in mobile applications and social media, a new study indicates that these aspects of the modern digital experience will continue to gain importance. These two facets of the contemporary digital economy operate pretty much in tandem with one another, and thus they are obvious bedfellows for airports to focus on.

Airports, Digital and Social Media

The modern traveller is a demanding always-connected individual, and airports already understand the fundamental need to respond to this customer model. The annual Airport IT Trends Survey from SITA thus indicated that around 90 percent of facilities worldwide are already committed to investing in mobile services. Additionally, over three-quarters of airports surveyed indicated that they will also be upgrading social media efforts over the same period.

This is an extremely wise undertaking, as numerous Digital Tourism Think Tank articles have revealed previously that customers are utilising mobiles at every stage of the travelling experience, from researching all the way through to arriving home again. This is a multi-screen, multi-platform world in which passengers genuinely expect to be engaged at all times in increasingly diverse methods.

Business Intelligence and Airports

Another interesting trend with regard to technology in airports is related to the phrase business intelligence. This is a term that is tossed around rather liberally, but ultimately this is a catch-all expression that refers to services such as geo-location technology. This can be utilised to track the location of various important elements of an airport's operations, such as staff, vehicles and baggage, but imagine a passenger movements around terminals and other important sectors of the airport.

Undoubtedly privacy concerns need to be addressed with relation to this technology, but recent research indicates that the balance between privacy and facility can be met satisfactorily. Around three-quarters of travellers have expressed the view that they would not object to surrendering some privacy if it significantly enhanced their holiday experience. This suggests that the battle between intrusiveness and service delivery can be won, but that this issue should nonetheless be responded to sensitively. After all, one-in-four travellers remains unconvinced, and this can still have a massive influence on the remainder if early efforts are implemented clumsily or thoughtlessly.

Although business intelligence is considered by many airports to be of particular value, there is a certain cautiousness about budget. In these extremely competitive and challenging economic times, airports are attempting to decrease spending on information technology, with as many airports intending to lower IT spending as increase it.

FlightView Survey Adds Digital Insight

The survey from SITA was supported by another concerning around 2,600 passengers by FlightView that examined the influence of technology and what airport users can expect from hosts and airlines. Over 80 percent of those surveyed carried some form of smartphone device, and thus it was hardly surprisingly that nearly three-quarters of those offering an opinion stated that they would like to be able to board a flight with a mobile boarding pass. Over two-thirds were also eager to have rebooking tools available on smartphone handsets in the event of airport delays.

With regard to mobile boarding passes, the Digital Tourism Think Tank has previously reported on this technology. Not only is this compatible with existing smartphone devices, but wearable technology, most obviously smartwatches, is already providing an extremely convenient manifestation of mobile boarding passes.

However, although customers are keen to embrace technology, it is important to understand that not all forms of mobile technology are as popular as one another. According to FlightView, only 36 percent were enthusiastic about booking ground transportation and ticket upgrades via mobile. Meanwhile, airports have more to to do satisfy consumes in other areas, with 31 percent and 42 percent satisfied with current provision for in-flight and airport Wi-Fi respectively.

Digital technology, mobile and social media can all certainly play a major part in ensuring that the consumer experience is greatly enhanced at airports. But understanding the specific trends and nuances is important for both airports themselves and also companies related to them. It is clear that the overall picture is more complex than simply stating that consumers are ready to uncritically embrace all mobile technology.

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