APEX-Experience-6.3-beacons

Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic are among the airlines using beacon technology to enhance the passenger experience. Image via Estimote

APEX Insight: The widespread use of beacon technology may not have fully caught on yet, but several airlines and airports are exploring their service potential in clever ways. As Rio de Janeiro’s RIOgaleão–Tom Jobim International Airport uses beacons to guide Olympians and spectators through its recently unveiled South Pier, Cathay Pacific is exploring new ways of interacting with its customers via beacon technology.

As the Rio 2016 Olympics unfold, RIOgaleão Airport has had to accommodate an unprecedented number of travelers. A network of 3,000 newly installed beacons and a complementary app with wayfinding features are guiding Olympic hopefuls and supporters through the airport’s recently unveiled South Pier, a 100,000-square-meter extension to Terminal 2.

Cathay Pacific’s flagship first- and business-class lounge at San Francisco International Airport offers visitors more than just a taste of Hong Kong. The choice between dan dan mian or fish ball noodle soup and more at the carrier’s signature noodle bar, or fresh daily menus from the deli counter, the self-service buffet or the Italian coffee bar, is enough to overwhelm even the most ravenous of travelers. So, to help the hungry choose their fare, Cathay enlisted beacon technology. 

In July last year, the airline partnered with LoungeBuddy, an airport lounge app, to bring information to travelers’ fingertips. Those who downloaded the app would receive tailored information as they entered the lounge, delivered through the lounge’s iBeacon network. “Once the [visitors] entered the lounge, they were able to find out details about the day’s food and beverage offerings,” explains Robecta Ma, vice-president of Marketing, Americas, Cathay Pacific.

“Once the [visitors] entered the lounge, they were able to find out details about the day’s food and beverage offerings.” — Robecta Ma, Cathay Pacific

Over the 60-day trial period, the airline logged more than 300 views from the iBeacon platform. “We saw a great deal of positive mentions across traditional and social media about our partnership,” Ma says, adding that based on the success, the airline is actively looking for other opportunities to use the technology. “Beacon technology can pre-emptively bring in detailed real-time information about a place that would otherwise be seen as ordinary. It opens up doors, experiences and opportunities for brands to interact with the public.” 

“Beacon technology can pre-emptively bring in detailed real-time information about a place that would otherwise be seen as ordinary.”  — Robecta Ma, Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is not the first to experiment with beacon technology, and it likely won’t be the last. Several carriers, including Japan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, have leveraged beacon technology to provide travelers with real-time flight and boarding information. Taking a few cues from retail settings, Hamburg Airport launched a customer loyalty program, offering shoppers “yoints” for spending time in the airport’s central retail area. Points earned could either be exchanged in shops or donated to charity. In 2013, American Airlines tapped into beacon retail potential as well by offering travelers seat upgrades at airports.

Perhaps beacons could even be used to facilitate the bring-your-own-entertainment trend. In 2014, Grolsch launched a campaign where the opening of a beer bottle in range of a beacon would unlock access to a movie. Rights and licensing aside, it’s not hard to imagine beacon-enabled movie downloads taking off in the airport setting. 

This story was originally published as “Beacons, At Your Service” in the June/July issue of APEX Experience magazine.