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Making Travel Apps Smarter with Geofencing

Location-based targeted messaging is changing the way travel brands are engaging with their users by allowing them to provide relevant, contextual messages that seamlessly merge physical environments with mobile experiences.

With revenues from location-aware smartphone apps expected to hit €30.6 billion by 2019, travel brands that have yet to take advantage of this growing trend to personalize their audience interactions based on the user’s location should take note.

There are various location aware technologies for smartphones that can be used to determine the user’s location, including geofencing, beacons, Wi-Fi and NFC (Near field communication). We’ll take a look here at two of the most popular ones for mobile apps: beacons and geofencing. And share why we think geofencing gives travel brands the ability to make their apps smarter and their user engagement more personalized.

Beacons
Proximity sensors are one of the technologies that can be deployed to target users based on their location. These sensory beacons are small, battery powered devices that transmit a Bluetooth signal which iOS and Android devices can listen for. When intercepted by a smartphone that comes into close proximity with the beacon (1 to 30 meters), these signals can trigger different behaviour within an app, such as a push notification.

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The advantage of using beacons is they are very accurate, especially indoors so they are ideal for micro locations e.g. points within a retail store. The downside of using beacons is they are hardware and as such can be difficult to deploy and can have an on-going maintenance cost e.g. replacing of batteries. They also require the device to have Bluetooth enabled which is not always the case on many devices.

A big growth area for beacons in the travel industry is airports, with 84% of them planning a sensor deployment in the next 3 years, predominately in wayfinding and commerce solutions. As airport authorities control the whole infrastructure of the airport, it is possible for them to deploy beacons at key locations such as entrances, check-ins, security checks and gates which can then be used to push information to the user via the airport app. However, with challenges around security and data ownership, collaboration between travel brands and sensor infrastructure owners (e.g. airports) is still uncommon, meaning it can be an expensive option for the former to deploy their own beacons as they typically target only a small fraction of their user base.

Geofencing
Another location aware technology is Geofencing, which works without the need for investment in beacon hardware and is able to understand the user’s location at a macro-level e.g. the user has just arrived at an airport terminal. This technology relies on the user’s smartphone geolocation to determine whether a user has arrived or left a specific area. With the knowledge of the user’s position at a macro-level, it becomes possible for the app to send relevant information to the user related to the user’s context.

A geofence is a virtual perimeter with a radius around a real-world location (e.g. a hotel), which makes it possible to interact with mobile users when they enter it. This interaction is normally in the form of a push notification which serves content that is highly relevant to the user e.g. notifying a user of benefits (free breakfast, Wi-Fi, parking) as they approach their hotel.

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What makes this technology unique is that it does not require a user to have the app open or the phone active to receive the notification, instead the operating system (i.e. iOS or Android) triggers the app in the background when a user enters the radius of the geofence. The fact that the operating system is doing the tracking, the geofence technology allows the app to target an individual user based on their location instead of targeting a large group of users. The user's location combined with other specific user information enables the context of the user to become clearer, allowing the message that is sent to be highly personalized.

The goal of geofencing is to engage the app users by bringing the app’s brand to their attention either when the brand has something relevant to offer or inform them of based on their location.


"Geofencing helps activate users, drive revenue and leverage customer insights"


There are many opportunities to use geofence technology in mobile apps and create smart notifications depending on the user's context. The following are two customer examples we implemented here Travelport Digital:

Collinson Group
LoungeKey – which is one of the Collinson Group’s corporate travel membership programs – provides members with access to over 850 airport lounges worldwide. The LoungeKey app allows members to generate their digital membership card to gain access to the lounges, as well as giving them the ability to generate vouchers for special offers at shopping, dining, and leisure outlets throughout the airport terminal, before and after check-in.

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These airport offers present a real incentive for the LoungeKey user to use the app at the airport. With so many travel apps usually vying for a user’s attention on their day of travel, the geofence feature in the LoungeKey app provides the ideal way of positioning the app in the user’s mind when they arrive at the airport by sending them a push notification – if they have location services enabled for the app – making them immediately aware of the benefits that are available to them in the terminal they are in.

easyJet
easyJet were the first European airline to utilise geofencing technology in their app when they implemented it at Gatwick Airport, which is their biggest base.

Airport information is aggregated and delivered to customers via a push notification in the app, giving information such as gate and baggage claim information when they land at the airport. In this implementation, geofencing technology is being leveraged to guide easyJet travelers through the airport at different stages of their journey.

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The Opportunity for Travel Brands
These examples demonstrate that there are many opportunities to create unique personal experiences in the travel industry by making apps smarter using geofencing technologies.

It is important to note however, that when geofencing technology is poorly implemented, it can result in the user receiving unwanted or irrelevant notifications which can negatively impact the user experience. This can damage a user’s trust in the travel brand, which could result in removal of the app in favour of a competitor. Therefore, it is important to consider whether geofence technology is the right technology for the particular user journey that is being envisioned.

When geofencing is implemented correctly, it allows the creation of unique context-based user experiences which have the ability to positively delight the user, and will create value for both the travel brand and the user.

Engage
Here at Travelport Digital, our mobile messaging platform Engage now supports location-based campaigns, offering the marketing teams of the travel brands we work with to send push notifications campaigns and design in-app experiences based on precise arrival and departure times and proximity to specific trip locations. 

This will continue to empower our clients to reach their users in more contextual ways to drive engagement and conversion. If you would like to talk to us about how we could help your brand to achieve value adding experiences for your users with the use of geofence technology, do not hesitate to contact us.

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Niall Minihan

Niall is a product owner in Travelport Digital, and helps our customers define and build their product roadmaps in line with their digital strategies. He has over 7 years experience in mobile, and prior to joining Travelport had his own business working with start-ups and emerging brands to create digital products with a focus on mobile. Niall is interested in new technologies and how they can be leveraged to drive real business value for our customers.

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