Marketing Strategies

New Heights, Customers Await Mobile-Savvy Airlines

The mobile web presents untapped opportunities to woo international passengers.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

June 02, 2016


Airline passengers are some of the most “mobile” customers you’ll find in any industry. In fact, they’re far more likely to carry a smartphone than the general population.

Research indicates these customers use their smartphones at every point of their trip: from pre-booking (browsing flights, logging into their accounts), to time spent at the airport (retrieving boarding passes, receiving real-time notifications), to on-board experiences (such as accessing in-flight entertainment and the internet via wi-fi), and even post-trip transactions (such as sharing feedback).

Yet astonishingly, many airlines admit they fail in offering a robust mobile experience to these valued constituents. According to a report co-sponsored by Airline Business and SITA, only about 40% of airlines think their mobile services are performing at least “as expected.”

Smart airlines are moving quickly to adapt. These companies recognise that the metrics of success may change from year to year, but the best mobile strategies consider a passenger's complete journey-something their conventional desktop websites do quite well.

But an effective mobile strategy delivers even more than that. Airlines must "build on, rather than simply copy, the functionality of their websites," the Airline Business and SITA report said.

For instance: Providing real-time notifications of flight changes. According to the report, more than half of the airlines surveyed can use their mobile platforms to inform passengers of flight delays in real-time. By next year, more than 90% of the surveyed airlines will have the capability to provide this service. Still other airlines leverage their mobile platforms to send targeted advertising to passengers. According to a study from Millennial Media and comScore, this tactic is used more by airlines than any other category in travel. Thanks to opt-in technologies that provide valuable information about these consumers' tastes and shopping preferences, the opportunities to deliver personalised advert experiences for passengers is almost limitless.

And with airline and airport collaborations, even more value can be delivered to passengers. Virgin Atlantic has worked with London Heathrow airport to build a system that can remind a passenger to have their boarding pass ready, as they approach a security checkpoint. Meanwhile in Japan, customers are automatically checked-in as they pass through security (thanks to the ubiquity of contactless IC chips in Japanese smartphones).

These investments are also generating revenue. According to the Airline Business and SITA report, 11.6% of an airline's ancillary sales will hail from mobile phones next year.

As more global customers use smartphones, it’s become increasingly important for airlines to launch the best mobile strategy possible, track their successes, and iterate when needed.

For more than a decade, we've helped airlines and other companies in the travel industry translate and optimise their desktop and mobile websites for emerging markets. Along the way, we've learned that, for airlines, the path to global online success is increasingly nuanced.

Here are a few challenges airlines must address, as they develop a global mobile strategy:

Translate and Synchronise a Mobile Site

An airline's critical first step is to translate the content of its primary-market mobile website (often in English) into its most-valuable secondary languages. To be truly successful, this translated website should be synchronised with the primary-market mobile site. As changes are made in English-such as adding promotions, flights or updating features-these changes should be reflected on the translated mobile sites, too. Feature and content parity are very important to most international consumers.

This is far more cost-effective than it might initially seem. Since primary-market mobile websites often contain far less content than their comprehensive, full-featured desktop versions, these experiences require less time, effort and resources to translate. In fact, for airlines that already offer a translated desktop site, there's almost no incremental translation cost to convert this into a mobile experience.

The positive results can be dramatic, instant and sustained. When our client JetBlue launched its Spanish-language mobile site, it recovered its initial costs in just five days. Mobile bookings and revenue remain so high, JetBlue recoups the total annual operating cost of its Spanish mobile site in a single day.

Again, synchronisation with the primary-market mobile site is key. While companies may find limited success by manually updating their translated sites (which is often a labour-intensive method), an automated approach is more efficient, scalable and affordable. Should airlines use an automated approach, they'll want to ensure their solution is properly configured with the Passenger Service Systems and other back-end systems.

Localize and Optimise Mobile Site by Market

Our decade-plus of experience and research reveals that website translation accounts for approximately 30% of the value of a translated website. Put another way: Just because you build it, doesn’t mean customers will come.

Indeed, the remaining 70% of value comes from localisation and optimisation. "Localisation and optimisation" means examining data collected from these translated sites (and combining them with other industry, market and international user-experience insights), and using them to make smart decisions that maximise traffic, engagement, and conversion.

This data is often collected through usability analysis, and are confirmed through multivariate testing. You'll often learn a great deal from this research, including moments in the customer experience that weren't properly localised for a seamless experience. For instance:

  • Using the mobile app to call the displayed airline phone number, which is answered by an English-speaking agent (instead of a localised number for their preferred language)
  • Receiving a real-time notification of a flight delay in English (and not their preferred language)
  • Abandoning checkout, since their international billing address does not contain a U.S. zip code
  • Abandoning checkout, since their local payment type is not supported

Failing to share a positive experience on the social web, since their preferred regional social media platform is not displayed

An Action Plan for Next Steps

To help airlines navigate these complex skies, we recommend this five-step action plan:

Create the Best Possible Primary-Market Mobile Strategy: This goal will always be a “moving target” that requires iteration, but remember, industry leaders implement and iterate quickly. The mobile and airline industries have several thought leaders who can help craft your plans.

Identify and Force-Rank Your Top Non-English Speaking Markets: Examine your company’s ticket sales, international routes, and web traffic (both desktop and mobile) to determine which markets are generating the most engagement and revenue.

If your company has already deployed translated websites in valued secondary markets, consider deploying translated mobile sites for them, too. Remember, this process is very cost effective, since desktop-site translations already exist for this content.

Consider Cross-Border Nuances: Review the list of cross-border challenges described in the sidebar, note which ones are relevant to your endeavours, and add to it as you build your strategy by country and market. For example: airlines creating a French mobile site for France may have a different list of “target devices” to serve, compared to airlines creating a French mobile site for Canada.

Launch Your Translated Mobile Sites: There should be little to no incremental cost for translation, your airline already operates a translated desktop site. Once translated, ensure these mobile sites remain synchronised, and properly connected to your booking engine and other back-end technologies.

Benchmark and Iterate: It’s important to track the performance of your multi-lingual mobile sites. Vendors can often be helpful in analysing benchmarks, and helping to determine reasonable conversion rates. (For instance, conversion rates of Spanish-speakers in the U.S. versus Latin Americans.) Savvy, experienced partners can provide authoritative insights on how to improve or tweak your mobile sites’ performance.

Last updated on June 02, 2016
Dominic Dithurbide's avatar

About Dominic Dithurbide

Dominic Dithurbide is a creative, goal-driven marketing leader that's dedicated his career to the translation industry. Dominic brings proficiency in global marketing, demand generation, and go-to-market strategies to MotionPoint's marketing team.

Dominic Dithurbide's avatar
Dominic Dithurbide

Marketing Manager


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