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People waiting at an airport


Down Time Is the Right Time for Digital Marketers

Time waits for no one. But when people are waiting--at the airport, a hotel, or the doctor's office--they are likely on a mobile device. How to capitalize:

Time is a precious commodity and travelers don’t want to waste it. Still, many travelers have spare time during their trips when they’re captive audiences that look to brands to help them stay stimulated and productive.

Randall Orbon, Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy at Publicis Sapient and based in Boston, says this idle time presents a myriad of opportunities for places like airports and hotels to enhance their spaces to help travelers best use their time.

“These are physical spaces that we’re required to go to that we don't control,” said Orbon. “The interesting thing is, for the people who do control them, they're like these hidden assets.”

These are physical spaces that we’re required to go to that we don't control.The interesting thing is, for the people who do control them, they're like these hidden assets
Randall Orbon, Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy

Disconnecting has dominated much of the travel industry conversation around travelers’ down time. Yale University psychology professor Laurie Santos has discussed the benefits of looking up from devices to enjoy a destination rather than letting technology completely take over travelers’ idle time. But some brands have realized it’s counterintuitive to encourage travelers to disconnect and leave devices at home when brands increasingly rely on travelers to share their trips across social media or use a brand’s mobile app. Also, potential customers who are biding time--think those stuck in a doctor's office or the local DMV--provide fertile ground.

Consider waiting at the gate to board a flight, relaxing in a hotel room after a day of meetings or touring, or lounging on a cruise line’s pool deck during a day at sea. Some hotels, for example, have integrated streaming platforms into their in-room entertainment systems to let guests control what they want to watch during idle time. Giving guests this control over the experience helps them reimagine hotels as an entertainment platform in addition to a place they rest their heads and boosts their brand affinity.

Airport time and how much of it is ideal is one of the most heated battlegrounds among frequent travelers. Some 75 percent of respondents in a recent CNN Travel survey said it’s better to arrive early to airports rather than just in time for a flight. U.S. and Canadian travelers, for example, wait an average of 90 minutes between security and boarding at medium and large airports, according to Airport Councils International, which represents more than 300 commercial airports in the United States and Canada. 

Many large and medium-size airports, particularly those with international service, have ramped up retail and food and beverage offerings in recent years to make their terminals more inviting. Global airport duty-free and retail sales hit $76 billion in 2018, up 10 percent from 2017 and 76 percent from 2010.


Person shopping on a mobile phone at an airport

Better shopping and restaurants won’t be enough to pique every traveler’s interest in showing up earlier, but once there travelers can better imagine the airport as more than a transit hub.

“People fly in and out, and it’s obvious that [airports are] already a retail space,” said Orbon. “But you could just customize it more…If you know that a plane for China is going to be leaving, you have this digital retail space and you could put it all in Mandarin. I'm sure anyone sitting in the waiting area would absolutely be over there interacting with it.”

“You could be a platform business where you’re actually letting other brands sell through your space that you control,” he said.

For example, airports could work with airlines to integrate shopping into the booking process, said Orbon. If you know you need a new jacket or pair of shoes for a trip, why can’t the airport sell you those during the booking process and you could pick them up before your flight?

Or, if a flight is going to New York, why not put a kiosk near the gate selling show tickets?

 “I was talking with someone and discussing [online retail] about airports and she said, ‘There’s this pair of shoes that I wanted, and the store I went to didn’t have them in my size. I called around and I figured out that the airport had it,’” said Orbon.

You could be a platform business where you’re actually letting other brands sell through your space that you control
Randall Orbon, Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy

“She said, ‘I called [the airport] and asked if they could reserve them for me, and they said no, you have to buy them here. We can’t reserve them.’ She said it was the least helpful thing. She was going to go to the airport anyway, so could she just buy them and they just put them aside so that when she goes there, she could pick them up?”

Hotels are also responding to guests’ needs during idle time. Some hotels have gone as far as shuttering their room-service programs because more guests were ordering delivery than calling downstairs to have the kitchen whip something up for dinner. The hotel could provide a platform for local restaurants or food-delivery services to advertise directly to the consumer. Many new hotels have also included local restaurants and bars in their designs that give guests places to relax if they don’t feel like sitting in their rooms.

Like airports, hotels also have more potential when it comes to retail.

“If I’m a big box hotel, I can design this whole experience around how I have a digital relationship with you,” said Orbon. “As a traveler, I will start to think of your brand as a shopping place.”

“Then every time I stay with your brand, they have three or four days to deliver me stuff. They can leave it in my room, or I can collect it as I go through the lobby. They can have these different digital interactions with me in the lobby. I can get used to shopping when I stay with you. There’s no reason I have to go to some men’s clothing store. I would buy stuff at the hotel easily, because I don't really like going shopping.”

While travel brands compete with Amazon and other online retail giants on their quests to become platform businesses, airports and hotels will likely benefit from their physical presence. 

Woman waiting in doctor's office

“Think Amazon vs. brick-and-mortar retailer vs. an airport,” said Orbon. “No one has to go to a retailer, everyone has to go to the airport. And there is no place to go for Amazon (although Amazon has opened 16 physical Amazon Go stores across the United States with two more opening soon, and the company also wants to bring Go to airports). So if you actually want to go somewhere and get something in your hands, you have to go the retailer.”

As technology continues to streamline travel, idle time will evolve and travelers will look to brands to help them figure out how to spend the extra time. Some airports have tested biometric screening to help expedite the security process, for instance, which quickly verifies travelers’ identities with eye scans or fingerprints. The term idle time has yet to permeate the global travel industry but it’s certainly one that brands might be wise to put more strategy behind.

Albeit, travel and hospitality isn’t the only industry learning how to better serve consumers during idle time. Ride-sharing companies have added functionalities such as letting passengers order food or check-in to their hotels. But these companies can go further in improving the passenger experience, including equipping more vehicles with Wi-Fi hotspots to make doing work and hosting meetings easier. Or, automatically syncing your favorite playlist from your music streaming platform with a ride-sharing app so that it begins playing when you enter a vehicle. Stores passed during a ride could also work with ride-sharing companies to push sales and promotions through beacon and Bluetooth technology along with a discount on your next ride.

The doctor’s office is another area ripe for idle time disruption. Patients sit in waiting or emergency rooms for several minutes or hours anxiously waiting for treatments and updates. “What if there was a way to interact with something that allowed you to be thinking about it productively -- they could sell you drugs, they could sell you insurance, they could sell you different places to go for different types of services,” said Orbon.

Consumers spend their time and money with brands that make their lives easier and more enriched. Giving your customer something unexpected that transforms their idle time into active time is a frontier more industries are entering.

Dan Peltier
Dan Peltier
Content Strategy & Thought Leadership

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