Image via Grab

APEX Insight: “There’s an app for that.” The marketing power of this tag line has driven the evolution of the mobile services infrastructure we enjoy today; it is also part of the problem. Integrating third-party services, like Grab’s food ordering platform, helps travel brands like American Airlines and Heathrow Airport ensure that their mobile apps remain relevant and useful.

Consumers are less keen to download new apps today than they were in years prior. Most use fewer than a dozen apps on any given day. Similarly, companies are keen to “hold on” to customers more tightly, keeping them in a single app rather than farming out functionality to third parties.

Domenic Ravita, global pre-sales director, API & Cloud Solutions at enterprise software company TIBCO, recently described the phenomenon, “The advantage is that it is their customer experience, their branding. But they get to benefit from the partner’s API at virtually no cost and extend the customer journey experience in a way that attributes to them rather than handing off to the third party.” Controlling that customer experience, if not the whole journey, is a major win for a brand.

Early efforts on this front mostly involved integrating Uber’s ride-hailing functionality into airline apps. More recently, airlines and airports added the in-terminal experience to their apps. Building out a mapping solution is an obvious first step; passengers appreciate directions to their gate. Those early efforts offered limited marketing opportunities; the newest iteration, however, is far more developed.

Rather than just guide travelers to a gate, travel providers are now facilitating shopping along the way. American Airlines and Heathrow Airport both recently integrated Grab’s food ordering platform into their apps. Passengers can now see a list of restaurants along their walking route and place an order remotely. By the time they get to the counter, the food is ready to go.

“The team at Grab really understands the airport environment and is very focused on providing a good customer experience.” – Kevin MacFarland, American Airlines

Kevin MacFarland, managing director of Mobile and Strategy at American Airlines, believes that this sort of integration is just beginning for his company, “We are always looking for ways to enhance the customer experience on the day of travel. The seamless nature of having food ready to go for our customers on their way to and from their gate is another way to improve travel experience. The team at Grab really understands the airport environment and is very focused on providing a good customer experience.”

It is not always about shopping, however. For Miami International Airport, the latest API-based addition to the app is about easing the passenger journey. Earlier this summer, the airport became the first to offer Mobile Passport Control from US Customs and Border Protection in its app. Consumers can live in the airport app interface they know but receive outsized benefits thanks to partner integration.

Expect more third-party integration in the future, thanks to vendors building out solutions with API-based access native rather than bolted on top. Switchfly wants to help airlines handle hotel bookings during irregular operations via a similar app add-on, for example. The company demonstrated a proof of concept for that use case during the recent IATA World Passenger Symposium. This increased functionality makes an app – and the associated travel provider – more likely to see business from a consumer. It is a low-cost, high-value benefit airlines are keen to secure.