We all love a holiday. Whether you’re a winter sun escapee, a ‘sausage leg selfie’ taker, or simply enjoy running away from work with the family for the weekend, there’s nothing better than switching off the laptop for a getaway.

But for the people helping us get from gloomy ‘A’ to sunny ‘B’, the prospect of millions of people jetting off on a daily (if not hourly) basis offers far greater opportunities than simply getting happy travellers safely off the ground. 

According to figures released by the Airport Operators Association (AOA), the aviation sector contributes around £52 billion annually to the UK economy with the largest single contribution coming from airports and ground services, closely followed by aerospace and then airlines. In this booming sector Heathrow plays a significant role, helping more than 75 million passengers get to over 185 cities across the world each year. But for Europe’s busiest airport, there are significant challenges in how to encourage travellers to enjoy the numerous on-site services as part of a seamless and enjoyable experience on their way from A to B.

In addition to its vast and hugely complex passenger and flight operations, Heathrow also operates Heathrow Express, Parking and features over 100 restaurants and retail outlets across its terminals - and in fact, the brand was recently named the World’s Best Airport for Shopping. The fact is, Heathrow have found that the retail and refreshment experience is a major driver of customer satisfaction across the whole journey.

So when you have 75 million customers a year, shopping and eating across hundreds of outlets every day – is it really possible keep track of the data? And if so, how can it be used to enhance a customer’s experience when they’re passing through? Especially when on as limited a timeframe as 60-90 minutes pre-boarding. This was exactly the problem which Heathrow faced when we first started working together.

At the time the airport’s parking operations, train service and hundreds of retail outlets were operating as separate businesses, despite consumer perceptions that Heathrow’s operations acted as one. What the brand needed was a strategy which mirrored the modern traveller’s desire to interact with the business as one entity. So we worked to help enable a customer-centric approach to data collection and management across all aspects of the business and across Heathrow’s various communications channels including its mobile app. This allowed Heathrow to create a seamless and tailored service, for customers before, during and after their trip.

This programme was implemented by Heathrow through an integrated mix of CRM strategies, campaign planning and execution services combined with post-campaign analytics and marketing intelligence, tapping into the marketing database to create audience insights from across a wide range of data points. It allows the airport to leverage its customer data by reacting to customer events in real time, developing for personalised one-to-one communications with passengers across its operations.

As a result of this renewed customer-focused strategy, the brand saw dramatic uptake in its Rewards Membership programme – specifically in active membership – and growth in spend and sales across its retail outlets and services. In addition, the insights gained from the database during the process helped Heathrow improve and refine its marketing activities across the board – making every journey better for holidaymakers and in fact, all travellers.

With each interaction and transaction, airports – and indeed travel brands as a whole – are able to collect a wealth of data on their valued guests which can help shape personalised communications across all touch-points. This in turn leads to more engaged, loyal and happy travellers encountering a more unified travel experience.

The challenge for those travel entities wanting to build better and stronger customer relationships, either with the view of converting sales or simply ensuring repeat business, is to be brave enough to understand and harness your data. It’s not an easy journey, especially if data has never before been a key focus previously. But, the benefits to both the business and its customers to have a data strategy in place which feeds into and strengthens every customer-facing touch-point will make this journey very rewarding and worthwhile.

Take that first step because the sky’s the limit. 

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