The aviation industry worldwide has undergone a major transformation with the entry of new technological advancements, which has resulted in the creation of a new generation of well-informed, tech-savvy travellers.
Joey Seow, regional vice-president West Asia and Africa at Singapore Airlines and Skyscanner commercial director Gavin Harris, participated at a panel discussion on airline and airports at the recently concluded Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
The panel discussed current topics in the airline and airport sector, including latest developments in airline products and the digital world’s impact on services for customers in their airline and airport experiences.
According to Seow, the aviation sector is seeing a rise in product segmentation with the launch of new business models such as low-cost short haul, low-cost long haul, full-service short haul and full-service long haul.
“Having been in the industry for nearly 30 years, the challenge we are all facing is offering the right product for the right customer; which is why we are seeing the introduction of new business models. Under Singapore Airlines, we have Scoot (low-cost mid-range and long-haul flights), Silk Air (full-service short haul flights) and Singapore Airlines (full service long haul flights); and each of these are managed separately to cater to the different segments,” Seow noted.
When asked how these models co-exist, with the fear of losing premium product customers to low-cost models, Seow said: “It depends on the equilibrium of customers travelling on a particular route and offering the right product on that route. For example, when we used to operate our full-service long haul on the Singapore-Jeddah route, we noticed that not many customers [who were travelling for pilgrimage] opted for business class. Taking into consideration the market and purpose of travel, we now operate our LCC Scoot on the route.”
“Across all markets, a global theme is a dramatic shift from desktop users to mobile. It’s a difficult one because it’s a completely different user behaviour”
– Gavin Harris
While aviation continues to study its customers and market segments, the digital travel platform has also undergone drastic changes, now offering interactive and personalised experiences.
One such development is the mobile, which has completely altered the travel planning and purchasing process.
The Middle East saw a 158 per cent increase growth in mobile redirects on Skyscanner over the last year (April 2018 to April 2019), driven by a rising demographic of millennial users and overtaking desktop searches, said an industry expert.
“Across all markets, a global theme is a dramatic shift from desktop users to mobile. It’s a difficult one because it’s a completely different user behaviour,” said Harris, Skyscanner commercial director.
“Companies need to think about things like personalisation of offers which Skyscanner is already doing to a certain degree. We’ve gone from price comparison to product comparison and have used things like machine learning to then start to sort prices considering others things like stopovers, it’s all about how you can display the content on mobile versus what we’re used to in the past with desktop. And this is something airlines really need to think about as there are a lot of airlines that haven’t fully committed to mobile yet…”
As the market for online mobile travel sales continues to surge in the region, Skyscanner aims to facilitate the customer journey through a seamless and easy-to-use platform; from the search for the best deals and routes available, to the final booking and purchasing of flights, hotels or car hire.
The company’s mobile application, which is also available in Arabic in this market, saw a 36 per cent increase in downloads in the UAE in the past year, and a 70 per cent increase in redirects on the app.
When talking about the future travel searches and bookings, Harris highlighted the rise of voice recognition technologies: “Mobile is the priority for us right now but we are experimenting a lot in emerging technologies… what’s more interesting for me is around voice search, and the impact that’s going to have.”
“Baidu’s chief scientist predicted a few years ago that voice search would make up 50 per cent of all searches by 2020, it’s very unlikely that will take place but it gives you an idea of the significance of voice search. Marketing teams, airlines and travel agents and meta searches like Skyscanner really need to start thinking about the impact of voice search,” he said.
As passenger numbers for the Middle East are expected to grow by 4.3 per cent annually over the next five years, and mobile travel sales are predicted to increase 16.4 per cent in the same timeframe (according to industry body International Air Transport Association (Iata), dynamic travel booking-apps that target an Arabic-speaking population are undoubtedly key drivers in making the Mena region a global leader in tourism growth.
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