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Chinese carriers gear up for diversified needs of global digital platforms

08/22/2016| 9:11:56 PM| ChinaTravelNews 中文

Be it for an e-commerce platform or supporting different phases of a journey via their digital assets, Chinese airlines are looking to refining their sites and apps.

ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta - Chinese airlines are focusing on expanding their presence globally, and to do that they know they need to understand international travellers better and connect with them through a platform that is tailored to their needs and expectations.

As we have learnt over the last 12 months, Chinese airlines are trying to improve upon their foreign websites’ e-commerce capabilities.

For instance, Spring Airlines is working with booking.com for accommodation options on its website. “We already have great deal of content on our domestic Chinese website, but we are looking at adding more of it on our international websites,” Spring’s Social Marketing Director Jonathan Hutt told us in an interview.

As a technology partner, Amadeus is providing Chinese airlines not only technology expertise to power their online bookings, but also helping them to understand the preferences and behaviours of travellers outside of China and then tailoring their websites and online experience to the unique needs of each market.

Many Chinese airlines including  Air China, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, XiamenAir, Sichuan Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines are working with Amadeus.

Andy Yang, Vice President of China and Mongolia, Airline IT, Amadeus IT Group shared that in the past year Chinese airlines’ priorities for their international websites and mobile platforms have largely fallen within three key areas:

1. Meeting the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) mandate to make their websites accessible to passengers with disabilities as defined by the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), ensuring that air transportation is equally accessible to all travellers.
2. Responsive web design to ensure that their travellers can view and interact with the airline’s website intuitively and optimally, on any display they choose – whether desktop, smartphone, or tablet.
3. Providing greater flexibility and functionality on their websites – whether to allow travellers to easily make changes to their bookings or purchase ancillaries to tailor their travel experience.

Strengthening digital assets

Kevin Wang, General Manager of Greater China, Google Travel, shared that in the last couple of years, a number of Chinese airlines have made steady improvements to their websites. “For example, China Southern Airlines has built a great flight shopping user experience on their website. Airline mobile sites and mobile apps are still in the early stages, and most are used mainly for post­booking or trip­based services. Given the  infrequency of flying, it can be difficult for airlines to get traction with mobile  app downloads. Google recently announced Progressive Web Apps (PWA) to bring the mobile app experience to the mobile web, and is something that  could benefit airlines.”

As Yang and Wang point out, Chinese airlines are looking at refining their digital platforms intuitively and optimally (letting a user access airline’s offerings on any display they choose). In case of Spring, the airline introduced WeChat Wallet option few months ago and now is looking at introducing new version of its website. So is the team looking at PWA? Hutt said it all depends upon the feedback from the new version. “We are going to monitor, identify where we need to improve. (New website) is a major investment, and it could negatively or positive hamper our sales. Looking at areas like cart abandonment and concrete buying behaviour data, we would understand user experience issues and then take a call from there,” he told us.

Airlines in China acknowledge that they need to improve upon areas such as how to respond to complex search criteria, evaluate price and checks seat availability for every possible itinerary option, facilitate comparison shopping spanning the carrier’s network (codeshare, interline, and alliance partners).

It also needs to be highlighted that the work that is done at the back-end to introduce a new offering should be done in a way that there is no detailed amendment required in existing digital assets such as PC website, mobile app etc. So it needs to be asked, as airlines continue to expand their product mix, how long should it take to introduce a new product? Other than the fulfilment aspect of the new offering, the time taken to go live with the same on a PC website or mobile app is equally critical. 

Also, as Jessie Chen, senior architect, product manager, UX team manager, China Southern Airlines shared recently, a deeper evaluation of mobile site landing pages and designing aspects such as HTML5 is needed at this juncture. “The significance of mobile landing page experience isn’t being addressed properly,” Chen told us.

Another area is being astute with online marketing spend for direct channels.

“We have a limited budget (as compared with OTAs) – so be it Facebook ads, remarketing, or traditional ads such as banner ads, we need to make judicious moves,” said an e-commerce executive from a leading carrier in China.

And moving on, once an airline has site traffic, it needs to be able to convert that traffic into bookings. “That requires an engaging, user­friendly site that is easy to  navigate, search for flights, and complete a booking.  Ideally, the airline  would offer appropriate ancillary services within the booking flow, and there are a number of third party merchandising products available that can  automate and streamline that process,” said Google’s Wang. “Airlines also need to manage any online channels in which they participate.  That means making sure that their data is accurate and flights are bookable. Working with multiple channel partners can be daunting, but there are ways to streamline the process, such as filing fares and rules with key industry publishers.”

Wang also mentioned that Chinese OTAs and meta-search vendors provide a valuable online cross­shopping service. “They focus on breadth in both suppliers and product  (flights, hotels, ground transportation, etc.)   Many of these companies have  been building their platforms for a number of years.     Airlines, unlike the OTAs and metas, are focused primarily on their own  flights and ancillaries, online service, and building stronger relationships with  their customers.  So while there are lessons in online commerce they can  learn from the intermediaries, airlines have a set of requirements that are unique to their businesses,” he said.      

Improving merchandising capabilities

Another area as far as airlines’ international websites is concerned is merchandising.

“Chinese airlines have a huge untapped opportunity in merchandising on their international websites, which today are predominantly focused on just selling tickets. An airline’s website used to be all about offering a simple way for customers to search and book flights,” said Yang. “In today’s hyper-connected mobile world, where customers are demanding better information and superior products accessed wherever and whenever they want, through the channel of their choice, an airline’s .com needs to offer a great deal more.”

Yang explained that at a fundamental level, it starts with offering ancillary services and fare families on their websites to give travellers greater ability to customize their travel style.

“Travellers want to be able to pick individual services both à la carte and in a bundle that offers tangible value. Airlines must focus on ensuring they clearly communicate that value to the traveller. Many Chinese airlines are starting to do this and we expect more will come on board,” he said.

Data-driven merchandising

Yang also underlined the significance of being data-driven.

“To take merchandising to the next level, airlines need to look at how to connect with a customer at every touch point, using big data and technology advances to build a detailed profile of each customer and be able to merchandise to them in real-time at the appropriate stage. Airlines must be able to take an endless number of traveller insights (current trip context, historical data, preferences or inferred information) and turn it into relevant and personalised offers delivered directly to the traveller’s mobile device.,” said Yang. “This is critical because enabled by mobile and social media, passengers have become more informed and more demanding than before. Personalisation will increasingly become the default expectation and airlines must deliver to customers the experience they want, sold to them in the way that they want, and at a price that they consider to be value for money.”

“This is also how airlines are going to make more money in the future. Merchandising and maximising revenue per customer throughout the passenger journey could represent as much as $130 billion of additional annual revenue for airlines by the year 2020. Personalisation can increase airline basket size by €30-35, repeat sales by 60-70% and ancillary revenues by 10-15%,” added Yang.

China Airline Distribution Conference 2016 hosted by Traveldaily is scheduled to take place on Oct.25-26, 2016 in Shanghai, we will discuss how airlines can provide personalized service to travelers at each touchpoint of their travel journey to maximize revenue potential.

TAGS: airline marketing | ancillary | travel technology
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