Travel Disruption Summit Track Preview: Aviation

In a few short weeks, 300 travel professionals from around the world will join us in NYC for the Travel Disruption Summit. We’re publishing a series of posts previewing each of the content tracks featured at the conference: Hospitality, Aviation, and Tourism. The final article in the series previews our Aviation track. You can browse the full program and the latest speakers added to the lineup here.

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As one of the largest and most regulated industries in the world, the aviation business holds many intricacies. The complexity of the aviation sector has perhaps never been on display as much as it has in the past year. Amid a backdrop of safety issues triggered by software and the sudden bankruptcy of a global budget airline, the aviation industry is experiencing a level of uncertainty unseen in decades. With this in mind, our Aviation Track is poised to discuss some of the major challenges facing airlines, as well as the opportunities these challenges present for growth, disruption, and further innovation.

At the Travel Disruption Summit this year, we’ll be exploring the future of aviation technology through multiple lenses, including distribution, in-flight experience, and the path to driving internal innovation.

In the U.S., passenger traffic has rebounded strongly since the Great Recession of 2008-2009. In 2018, U.S. airlines and foreign airlines serving the country served a combined 1 billion passengers across domestic and international flights -- a record. That’s a 4.8 percent increase over 2017’s record of 965.4 million passengers.

As other regions also break records, this trend extends worldwide without signs of abating over the next decade. IATA forecasts that China will become the world’s top aviation market by 2025. India will also make massive gains, jumping from the 7th largest market to third by 2037. Overall, the center of aviation demand is gradually shifting away from developed markets. IATA also predicts that “emerging and developing economies will account for over 60% of all passenger traffic by 2040.”

These shifts have massive implications for aviation: from who buys what aircraft to how airlines meet traveler preferences from different cultures, aviation stakeholders must plan and prepare for the changing demographics of air travel in the next decade. Our Aviation main stage and roundtables will tackle this issue from many angles. Here’s what a few of our speakers and panelists are more looking forward to discussing.  

Aviation Main Stage: Aer Lingus, ATPCO, IAG, Norwegian Air, and United

The airline industry isn’t exactly known as being synonymous with rapid innovation. After all, how can management strive to create significant change in an enterprise structure where 80% of the P&L is regulated?  On the Travel Disruption Summit mainstage, four executives of leading airlines will discuss how they’re prioritizing new technology adoption, internal culture changes, and adapting to market trends faster to help move their businesses and the industry forward.

One of our mainstage speakers is Anthony Toth, Managing Director of Digital Sales for United Airlines. We checked in with Anthony on his thoughts leading in to the Summit:

Which topics are you most eager to explore at TDS?

I’m always interested in talking about the technology stack in our industry.  That would be anything related to Content and NDC, as well as channel strategy and alternative channels.

I’m also looking forward to talking with my peers about how technology is transforming our industry, as well as sharing United’s transformation. We are taking customer preferences for technology and combining it with corporate contracted relationships to address customer desires in interacting with United digitally.  

Are airlines doing enough to align their experience with traveler expectations, especially when it comes to technology?

Given my role, it’s about providing customer content in their channel of choice. With so many 3rd party aggregators coming into the space, as well as the proliferation of airline API’s, we can create breadth and depth to a customer shop search. Through all of this, we want to get better content and offers in front of customers.

Roundtable Sessions: Andrea Bonaiuto, Eurowings

During our roundtable sessions, attendees will explore topics that relate to a specific phase of a traveler’s journey, within the three tracks: Aviation, Hospitality, and Tourism. Each roundtable also has an expert moderator, who will guide the conversation among the ten participants (carefully curated to include four industry professionals, four startups, one investor and one media representative). We’ve designed the roundtables to be deeper dives into the essential issues in travel. They’ll foster an engaging, thoughtful conversation among an intimate group of professionals.

One of our moderators is Andrea Bonaiuto, Marketing Manager for the Americas at Eurowings Group. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lufthansa, Eurowings Group has integrated Brussels Airlines to expand long-haul options across the network. At Eurowings, Andrea is developing strategies to stimulate growth marketing across three airlines, including shared best practices and leveraging digital campaigns to maximize investment value.

Andrea is moderating the  “In-flight Experiences” roundtable at the Travel Disruption Summit. Here’s what Andrea is most looking forward to discussing at her roundtable:

Which topics you are most eager to explore at TDS?

Two topics come to mind: the first is over-tourism. How are we innovating to handle this issue? The second is airline competition in the atmosphere of low-cost models. Airlines have to ask themselves: what are the NEW needs of the customer, needs that didn’t exist 10 years ago? Then deliver on those needs to compete successfully.

How do these topics align with some of the challenges you see for aviation/airlines in the next 12 to 24 months?

Over-tourism is all about dealing with the concept of “trend destinations.” Not sure if that’s an actual name but I just made it up! For example, excessive travel to places like Tulum, Iceland, and Italy. It’s up to the airlines to understand these trends and meet capacity as necessary, which includes pulling back capacity and promoting new “trend destinations” as they emerge.

When it comes to airline competition, low-cost models have tended to swoop in, take market share, and then try to survive with business models that are unsustainable and possibly go bankrupt. Then airlines with sustainable business models lose market share, suffer, and attempt to clean up the scraps that the low-cost carriers left behind. Examples here include WOW Air, Primera Air, Cobalt, and air berlin.

What are some qualities of a good technology solution serving the aviation space?

Anything that meets the requirements of GDPR -- while still allowing for personalization that better meets the needs and wants of customers. Especially when they don’t know they want it yet. This is a way to exceed customer expectations.

What are some of the toughest operational challenges faced by airlines today? 

One of the most pressing issues faced by all airlines is passenger and systems cybersecurity. This is an ongoing battle that must be fought on many fronts.

And, of course, there’s the constant pressure of fixed costs. This has always been a question, especially when fuel and currency fluctuations can make or break profit. It’s a standard operational challenge that nonetheless is a big one for all airlines.       

Are airlines doing enough to align their experience with traveler expectations, especially when it comes to technology?  

Never. As soon as an airline is doing “enough,” they are behind!

When it comes to not meeting traveler expectations: Apps are an example of how customers have high expectations.  Apps from United or Delta are very comprehensive. Customers expect a fantastic app experience no matter the airline, which sometimes just isn’t the case. For smaller airlines, it’s a massive investment that takes a lot of time and resources.

An example of exceeding traveler expectations is biometric check-in. It’s an example of how airlines are meeting customer needs that they didn’t know they had. It’s been a sensitive roll out as well: customers want better security but biometric screening can be scary for many people.  So it’s up to the airlines and airports to roll out biometric screening and check-in according to the practical, logistical, and psychological needs of passengers.

Hear from Anthony, Andrea and more leaders making an impact in travel innovation at the Travel Disruption Summit on May 22nd, 2019 in New York City. Visit our website to check out the latest speakers and program updates, and apply to attend here!