Global loyalty and benefits company Collinson has been focusing on customer engagement in airports. One of its projects, Grab, the mobile app that allows travelers to order food from airport concessions through their phones and pick it up when it’s ready, has gained traction in several airports over the past few years. Phil Seward, senior vice president of loyalty strategy – Americas, spoke with AXN’s Shafer Ross about some of Collinson’s research into the possible benefits of airport loyalty programs.

ROSS: How can implementing loyalty programs in airports help us understand travelers’ habits?

SEWARD: Historically, airlines have been the main-staying global standard for travel loyalty programs and airports have not really been present in that process. We see that this is changing very rapidly at the moment. There are huge opportunities for airports to have new constituents in air loyalty and travel loyalty, and I think there are a few reasons driving that.

Number one is commercial drivers. Airports are looking for opportunities to [boost] non-aeronautical revenues and obviously through passenger revenue from concessions in the airport is a great opportunity. I think the cost and accessibility of technology and data has become a lot lower than it may have been historically. And I think customer attitudes have changed, as well. The airport has moved from being a functional part of the process – get to the plane and get through to your destination – to actually becoming ultimately a destination and part of the travel experience, not just a function within it.

The technology and data infrastructure has become more cost effective, but also, I think really what the breakthrough has been is mobile technology. It’s very easy now for a passenger to interact with the airport and often they’re willing to exchange their information in return for a key service, Wi-Fi typically being the most valuable. At that point, suddenly, the airport can have real, valuable insight into the passenger’s trip. They can connect with customers’ data through a loyalty program and use that to gain a greater insight into what, potentially, motivates them during travel and how to be most relevant to them during their experience.

ROSS: What kind of technology is the current standard, and where can we expect to see it go?

SEWARD: I think the baseline standard is providing a meaningful value exchange. The important starting point is a proposition that is meaningful enough for the passenger to hand over their information, and the technology needs to be able to capture that and act upon it.

I think where technology is heading is really to enable commerce at the airport. It may be to enable wayfinding through the airport that’s accompanied by recommendations; it may be on the commerce side. For example, [with] Grab, for any airport that’s participating, you can view all the food and beverage concessions on your mobile phone, select from the menu that you want to purchase from, the full transaction happens on your phone and then that food can be available for pick-up. We’re extending that out to include delivery to the gate and even order-at-table or order-from-kiosk options. So, we’re using the technology to make that whole experience much more convenient for the passenger. It’s more secure, because the transaction happens in the app, but equally, driving awareness is important. I think the commerce enablers are really key.

I think those are the big technology drivers: how do we make the whole experience much more convenient for the passenger and how do we mirror what they’re seeing outside the airport within the airport’s experience?

ROSS: How does the implementation of more advanced loyalty technology appeal to the next generations of travelers – millennials and Gen Z?

SEWARD: I would say there are quite a lot of differences in appealing to those generations. It’s not just using mobile but expecting it. This is a mobile-dependent group. It’s more a case of preferring mobile services as opposed to just being a nice option to have.

The nature of travel, as well, has changed. I think millennials have really coined the term, “bleisure.” You know, attaching leisure to a business trip, that’s become pretty standard. What we’re really seeing emerging is this concept of “micro-cations” – very short trips as opposed to the classic one- or two-week vacation to a luxury resort. Control, reliability, being very time-efficient during those trips – not only from the journey through the airport, but the flight and destination – is absolutely critical for that kind of traveler. They’re absolutely looking to maximize all of their time, and they’ll want to be productive during that time, so having access to Wi-Fi, having access to an airport lounge, having access to wellness opportunities are really important. Being in control and having choices and knowing they can drive a lot of that through digital tools is equally important to them. It’s becoming the new normal, essentially.