How the global travel industry will recover from the current situation is unclear.However, we are witnessing some early signs of recovery in China.
The Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism released the latest travel figures from last week’s Dragon Boat Festival holiday, 48.8 million people traveled around the country, acquating to 50.9 percent of last year’s travelers.
We are seeing industry players rethink how they should be managing unforeseeable risks.
For airports in the region specifically, during this period, we saw operators increasingly look to technology to ensure a hygienic and frictionless passenger experience.
For example, Hong Kong International Airport deployed several self-driving robots to clean public areas as part of its measures to protect against the spread of the COVID-19.
In the long term, the utilization of technology is crucial for airports with regards to meeting the needs of passengers and driving non-aeronautical revenues.
Automation to streamline the passenger journey
To adapt to changing passenger flows, airports are implementing automation across all touch points in and around the terminal.
Automated bag drop units currently located in two Chinese Airports including Shanghai Hongqiao and Pudong, are one way airports can streamline the process of check-in, allowing a fast and efficient way for travelers to check-in luggage, independently.
In the long term, by automating the airport experience, travelers can have more time to relax and unwind before a flight. With the time they save, travelers can further explore the airport and its retail and food and beverage outlets, making airports more experiential, rather than purely functional.
Biometrics will be more prominent
To further manage passenger flows across the terminal, airports can invest in biometric technology to adjust throughput while streamlining the passenger journey.
Biometrics are being widely implemented in airports across the Asia-Pacific region. Australia’s Qantas Airways is an example where an airline tested the technology for all touchpoints across the terminal at Sydney Airport, including check-in, bag-drop, lounge access, and boarding processes.
Ultimately, biometrics are a key component in enabling frictionless travel, allowing passengers to enter a lounge, check-in, and board their aircraft all via facial recognition. The technology can also be helpful in the current environment.
Wuhan Airport, which has recently re-opened to the public after the city lockdown, is piloting the AI-powered biometrics scanner that does temperature checks on passengers. It can measure up to one hundred people in just 2 minutes.
As passengers become more conscious of touchpoints at the airport, and feel confident their privacy and security are not compromised, biometrics can also facilitate contactless travel.
Imagine replacing traditional touch checks such as passport and boarding pass scans, with a touchless scan of a passenger’s face.
Off-site passenger handling will become the norm
Airports can also explore off-site passenger handling to offer a seamless airport experience, this can be done through pop-up check-in and baggage drop services.
Off-site processing can be deployed in more convenient locations away from the airport, such as railway stations, cruise terminals, conference venues, sporting events, and hotels.
Not only does off-site processing reduce the number of passengers at the terminal, It can also assist airports in meeting new passenger expectations surrounding social distancing by dispersing traditionally crowded terminals and checking in passengers at strategically placed off-site locations.
It also works to personalize the journey for the traveler as it offers more choice in how, when and where they check-in and drop off their bags.
Mega airports will become destinations in themselves
Competition for passengers, airline routes, and non-aeronautical revenues are already driving innovative players to rethink what the airport of the future could look like.
Looking ahead, we’re going to see the expansion of airports in China to be more competitive against airports elsewhere in Asia, as well as to meet new customer demands.
As travelers are offered more choice, airports will have to become more experiential and ultimately a destination themselves in the upcoming future.
As airports look to utilize their existing infrastructure, terminals will begin to see automation, biometrics and off-airport check-in as viable solutions to address evolving passenger expectations.
The good news is that airports are seeing the benefits of these new efficient technologies and the technology itself will only get better to continue to improve the traveler’s journey – ultimately allowing airports to lead in providing a frictionless travel experience.