The hurdles to penetrating the Chinese tourism market in any meaningful or lasting way are many, but the reward for establishing a stake in this region is well worth the effort. At Day One of APEX Asia, delegates heard how traveler habits and expectations in China are evolving, how local airlines want to use connectivity, how content creates connections and how clear communication can engender loyalty and trust.
Xiamen Airlines Spotlights Sustainable Development Goals
Before giving the floor to Xiamen Airlines’ chief operating officer for Customer Service, Chen Yizhen, to discuss the airlines’ sustainability efforts, APEX CEO Joe Leader announced that the airline would be the recipient of the FTE Leadership in Innovation Award. “This Award is an acknowledgement of contributions made by Xiamen Airlines. Thank you APEX,” Chen said, while accepting the award on behalf of the airline.
In addition to being one of the rare airlines in China to be in the black for over 32 years, Xiamen Airlines is also a frontrunner in the push for sustainability in the aviation industry, Chen shared. Xiamen Airlines was the first airline to sign an agreement with the UN in support of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), resulting in the implementation of 12 projects and 51 measures at the airline. To cement its commitment, in June, the airline received its first aircraft baring an SDG-themed livery. The news, Chen notes, generated significant media attention: with over 1.3 billion people watching on television and a reach of 400 million on social media.
The airline’s commitment to sustainability has also found its way into the cabin with green services such as paperless flights, lightweight food trolleys, and healthy and balanced diets. “We will continue to raise global awareness of sustainable development goals and build a green and clean planet for the long term. We call on all airlines to undertake this shared mission to build a better future for everyone,” Chen said.
More on Sustainable Development From the UN
Following a moment of silence, observed in remembrance for the lives lost on Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 (including 22 members of the UN and nationals from 30 countries), the second keynote presentation at APEX Asia was delivered by Hua Jiang, director of the News and Media Division, Department of Global Communications, United Nations. Her message and call to APEX airlines was urgent and simple: Partner with the UN (as Xiamen Airlines has done) to work toward the 17 “interconnected, practical and achievable” sustainable development goals defined as part of the UN’s SDG plan.
The aviation industry, she said, is absolutely critical in the UN’s sustainable development goals, in particular, building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, fostering innovation and Ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. “Organizations like APEX – whose name itself signals commitment to the people – have an important role in working to achieve these global goals. APEX can play an important role in achieving STG by 2030,” she said.
She went on to commend Xiamen Airlines for its leadership in tackling the SDG goals head-on, taking full advantage of its global audience to support the initiative and educate its customers. “[Xiamen Airlines] has been using UN content in IFE systems, lounges, website and social media accounts and also including a monthly informational ad on the SDGs in their inflight magazine, and even painting one of the newest Dreamliner’s with the SDG logo,” she said.
Beyond Flight Booking: Spring Airlines and the Business Case for IFEC
During her keynote address, Spring Airlines’ chief product officer, Jiani Ding, shared the airline’s recent efforts in increasing ancillary revenue through experimentation with in-flight entertainment and connectivity, in light of China’s civil aviation authority’s new policy now allowing for mobile access in flight. Not every airline will open access to in-flight Wi-Fi in China due to the associated costs, Ding says, but the rewards to be reaped are plenty. In fact, after testing Wi-Fi on two aircraft, she said, “We realized Wi-Fi isn’t costing us so much and it is giving us all this information about passengers behavior to apply after for further conversion.”
The perception of LCCs, like Spring Airlines, is that service is compromised for the sake of ticket price, but with competition at the flight booking stage becoming increasingly fierce, a renewed focus on revenue at different stages in the journey is evermore important for all airlines – and IFEC can be the facilitator: “We could start with IFE as a bridge, a connector that can optimize airline service. Not just during the flight but also before and after, by giving us data that can then be used during a passengers trip and also in their booking of the next one,” Ding said.
APEX Social Listening Survey Shows Positive Correlation Between NPS and Satisfaction With IFE
For the first time ever, APEX CEO Joe Leader shared the results of a social listening exercise examining the correlation between IFE satisfaction and airline net promoter score (NPS), conducted by APEX in partnership with Black Swan. Insights were culled from 26 million social media conversations, across multiple languages. Key takeaways from the survey include learnings on passenger needs for uplifting content, confidence in the reliability of an IFE system, as well as for a straightforward user experience. Finally, Leader revealed that, “the desire for personalized content is pushing passengers to PEDs, even though their preference would be to watch content on seatback.”
Leader ended his talk with more proof of the association’s thought leadership, this time regarding concerns surrounding the cameras in IFE systems. After stating that airlines should always explicitly ask passengers to opt in before these cameras are activated, he highlighted some of the cameras’ potential benefits, such as biometric identification, automatic entertainment pausing and video calling crewmemebers. “As APEX, we needed to make a very clear statement of why these cameras had to be here – and that is for airlines to future-proof their aircraft.”
In-Flight Content in a Connected World
With the prevalence of connectivity comes an evolution of content trends and strategies. In this session, Jovita Toh, Encore Inflight Limited CEO discussed today’s passenger consumption behaviour and airline content requirements with a panel of experts from leading content service providers: Amanda Walsh, Director of Partnerships Stellar Entertainment; Jason Hau, Spafax Regional Director, Asia Pacific; and Ong Yong Beng, Images in Motion CEO.
Overarching themes included personalization, curation of content and where the CSP can add value as wider broadband pipes enable passengers to stream any content they like to their own personal devices on board.
The panel agreed that while airline passengers generally expect the same quality of experience in flight as they have on the ground, they don’t necessarily want the exact same experience. People do naturally gravitate to content they are familiar with, but globalization is making the world a smaller place, and is creating a growing curiosity among passengers. In this respect, CSPs continue to add tremendous value by acquiring content that can’t be found on Netflix or Amazon and working with airlines to position these “hidden gems” so they can be discovered and enjoyed by as many passengers as possible.
The panel expressed significant interest in data and personalization. In fact, they regard it as their job to make this work for airlines. “How can we use data, along with the content available, to push more ancillary revenue, more personalization and how do we better target the passenger with more relevant content,” Hau queried. “And how do we get more relevant ads to the right passenger? It is [the CSP’s] role in the new world to bring this all together.”
Future-Proofing Aircraft Cabin Design
The day’s afternoon sessions began with a dose of inspiration for the future of aircraft interior design with presentations by Daniel Baron, CEO of LIFT Strategic Design, and Vanessa Chang, BMW Designworks’ director of Creative Consulting. Baron called for the application of design thinking at the highest level and a culture of continual innovation as a means to bring “the wow” into the aircraft cabin. Upstart airlines cultivating this approach are already considering unprecedented cabin configurations, and products like ultra first class or luxury economy. The end goal should be to bring the experience to the forefront in such a way that encourages people to keep traveling and meeting face to face. “We need to continually improve the cabin experience,” he added.
Similarly future-focused Chang emphasized the importance of keeping pace with the lifestyle and behavior of younger generations, which she says should inform cabin design: “As an example, we need to think about airline logo placement in the cabin, so that it is in the frame when a passenger chooses to take a selfie.” Selfie culture is just one of the many technology-driven trends Chang urged airlines to respond to – but in all cases keeping the passenger experience top of mind: “It needs to be a human package, and not about showing technology for technology’s sake,” she said.
ANA AVATAR: Connecting All 7.5 Billion People on Earth
Avatar technology might seem far out there, but it isn’t – and it isn’t going to put airlines out of business either, say Akira Fukabori and Kevin Kajitani of ANA’s Digital Design Lab, and co-directors of the ANA AVATAR project. “Technology that authentically attempts to connect people will not disrupt air travel. It will ultimately drive it,” Kajitani said. This emphasis on connection was the crux of their presentation, of their project more generally, and of ANA’s investment in the initiative.
Avatar technology, which blends robotics, haptics, virtual reality, tactile sensors and much more, is a clear extension of what the Japanese airline is already doing: bringing people together, the pair insist. “We initially thought avatar technology would be secondary to teleportation, but now we realize that it is actually better because it can allow you to look, feel and touch like you are really there. It’s the ultimate form of technology.” In addition to increasing access to remote and rural areas, ANA AVATAR can help airlines tap into the majority of the global population that isn’t already traveling. “We aren’t as well connected, in a physical sense, as we are digitally,” Kajitani said, adding that with the launch of the $10-million ANA Avatar XPRIZE – a four-year global competition to develop real-life avatars – that could change.
Lost in Translation No More
There are vast and sometimes daunting differences between Western and Chinese cultures, languages and traditions. But considering the size of the Chinese outbound tourism market (estimated at USD $258 billion in 2017), airlines should have no problem justifying serious investment in good communications with Chinese passengers.
This was the message that Paul Chen, founder of V.X Consulting, shared at APEX Asia. Chen shared numerous examples of instances when airlines or airframes translated English text, verbatim to Chinese, and completely lost the impact of the original message. And it isn’t just words that can get mixed up with translation – certain numbers don’t fly in Chinese either.
For example, the Russian aircraft type Tupolev Tu-154 didn’t sell in China, because the number four is unlucky, and homophonous to the word “death.” Gulfstream likewise struggled to secure orders for the Gulfstream 250 private jet, because when pronounced in Chinese it sounds the same as ‘you are an imbecile.’
“Most translation agencies charge by the word, so there isn’t much incentive for them to try and make it the best translation,” Chen said. “My recommendation is, don’t translate your copy into Chinese. Hire a copy writer instead and give them a brief, or themes and desired outcomes, then create from scratch. This way, you establish an emotional connection and show your audience that you have an intention to embrace the culture and be around for the long term.”
AWS’s Cloud-Based Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning Tools: A Primer
“In the past, data was a burden … but now it is our biggest asset,” said Zhang Xia of Amazon Web Services (AWS), a wholly owned subsidiary of the e-commerce giant. AWS is now helping airlines make sense of all of the data with a set of cloud-based data analytics services, such as real-time streaming data, predictive analytics, data lake analytics and machine learning tools, including image and video recognition, and voice and language.
Among the possible paybacks for airlines are next-generation loyalty programs, automatic re-accommodation, predictive maintenance and product recommendation engines – the last of which would be powered by the same real-time personalization and recommendations technology that made Amazon what it is today. “We wanted to help by providing machine learning tools that are easy to use and can enable the airline industry to improve the passenger experience,” Xia said.