Airport industry leader sounds off on benefits of location-based analytics

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By TJ Lundeen
Sales & Marketing Specialist

With the number of mobile devices in use growing at a breakneck pace — from 120 million in 2008 to more than 5 billion today — capturing location data has become a powerful tool for business.

Using technology like Archetype SC’s A2 Analytics, businesses can now track the real-time movement of customers using data collected passively from devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and watches.

Whether it’s how long someone waits in line, where they exit a building or how long they stop to observe an advertisement, the insights provided by location-based analytics technologies can be a game-changer for many businesses.

To get a better view of how this technology works for customers, we sat down recently with one of our A2 Analytics clients, Kirk Lovell. An innovator with more than 20 years’ experience in the tourism and airport industries, he currently serves as the Director of Air Service and Business Development at Myrtle Beach International Airport.

Here’s what Lovell had to say about how location-based analytics is affecting the airport industry and how it has helped transform the way he does business.

When did location-based analytics begin to become a factor in your industry? When did you first hear about it?

It’s been about 4-5 years ago that I started to hear about it being used on the retail side of things in terms of how you could use it to stop people to go into your store and make a purchase.

What first brought you to thinking this technology was the right fit for your organization?

When I began considering this type of technology, I found that there were devices which were inexpensive, but were pretty unreliable and could only capture 5-10 percent of the traffic coming through. And on the other end of the spectrum there were systems that captured a whole lot more, but for a smaller airport like ours they were just WAY too expensive.

One of the biggest challenges for airports is that when they run out of space — or when they think they do — they just build more. But often they’re not fully optimizing the space they have.

The question becomes: How do you optimize the space you have and how do you move people around in a better fashion to maximize sales and flow and the customer experience?

I just felt like adopting this approach was an opportunity to be on the forefront of the industry and actually just use technology to start to drive change from within.

The challenge when you marry the airlines and airports together can be that you’re really mixing two different worlds of for-profit and pseudo-government. As an airport it’s very important to keep your costs in check and continue to drive costs down so that the airlines continue to make money so that we can continue to attract and add new airlines and new destinations for our customers.

What benefits have you seen from location-based analytics? How has it helped your organization?

For us, the biggest benefit is that the data location-based analytics has been able to provide in regards to TSA wait times allowed us to get more lanes opened to improve that experience for our customers.

As soon as we showed the TSA the real data versus the matrix they use to predict that, we were able to get more money, more staffing, and more overtime hours allocated to staff.

What has surprised you about location-based analytics during your usage of the technology?

Just seeing the impact that has had for us in TSA has definitely raised some eyebrows and given us a chance to dive into exploring how we can implement this type of technology even further in places like baggage claim, ticketing, retail, advertising, and transportation.

The addition of location-based analytics technology at Myrtle Beach International Airport allowed them to add more TSA lines, scanners and staffing to reduce wait times for customers.

What other impacts can location-based analytics have for the aviation industry? How does it grow from where it is now?

For any small to medium airport that has a limited budget, to find a solution like this that can help optimize your facility and reduce your operating costs is going to make you a better business — not to mention making you more attractive to airlines and helping you grow that way.

I think the growth is going to come from airports being smarter in terms of how they look at their facilities and how to get the most out of them. Using technology like this just lets you begin to actively manage your facility instead of just being reactive when you have an issue.

Many people in this industry still have no clue when it comes to using data to drive their decision making and they feel like it’s not their job to manage — they feel like it is the airlines’ job to manage all of it.

Once you get to the bigger airports, you’ll see them studying the data, but in terms of small and medium airports, there aren’t enough who are really using this type of thing to their advantage.

How do you view competition in the marketplace and how has location-based analytics helped you stay competitive?

Considering the way we look at it, really everyone is competition.

There are only limited assets out there when an airline goes and buys new airplanes, those really could go to ANY airport, regardless of size — it’s just where the best opportunity is.

So we just continue to focus on how we can make ourselves the best MYR possible, and using technology like this to optimize our processes, improve our customer experience, and drive down costs is how we make ourselves the best opportunity for potential airline partners.

Have you seen a change within the industry, from colleagues or at conferences, in the way airports are approaching data?

It’s very slow going. Even at many conferences, which are a place for new ideas, everything still seems like it goes back to an old-school point of view and when you bring up the idea of looking at something like data, differently, there’s a lot of push back.

There are some places out there where alternative data and finding alternative data sources is starting to become a point of interest, but I still don’t feel like most airports are digging in deep enough when it comes to finding ways to utilize data.

How would you talk about location-based analytics to an airport that currently does not utilize the technology?

I think it goes back to obviously just better utilizing your facilities, drive revenues, and drive costs down and this type of technology allows you to do that.

People need to be really aggressive on doing those things to improve the bottom line, with the endgame being getting more service by the carriers.

If you’re just looking at expansion and doubling the size of your terminal, you’re probably just overlooking opportunities for optimization and you’re probably wasting a ton of money and adding unnecessary costs to your rate base.

The airport is your first and last experience in a market, so you need it to be a good experience. If it’s your hometown airport, you want that traveler to be proud of that airport. So even though it may feel like you’re stuck and don’t have a ton of options we don’t want you to have a bad experience.

If you leave and the TSA line was an hour to get through, there’s that feeling there that you just ruined someone’s vacation, and obviously that’s something we don’t ever want to do.

Insights without limitations

Track the movements of customers, employees or equipment in real-time with A2 Analytics. Find out more about how this revolutionary technology can help you run a more efficient business using machine learning and location-based analytics today!

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