The Olympics and the Connected Trip Experience

Note: Originally published for IFExpress, I have included the IFExpress introduction with full article text and link to IFExpress below.

Image credit: IFExpress

“Now that the Olympic feeding frenzy is over, we thought we would offer one last Olympic-related opinion editorial tidbit for our readers. Aviation writer/consultant, Jonathan Alford (See Below) offers his spin on an Olympic experience in relation to IFEC, a concept he calls “Total Trip Experience and Connectivity”

As London continues to bask in its well-deserved post-Olympics glow (though Prince Harry clearly basked in a different glow), it’s good to recognize what most fans can’t see – the effort to stage a successful Games by working across a vastly complex ecosystem of hundreds of Olympic operating functions, security agencies, National Organizing Committees, media, and more – all of which compete as ruthlessly for resources as the athletes compete.

In 2002, I had the privilege of working for the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Committee on our executive program management and operations team, where I realized the blood of hospitality and travel also courses through a Games – through thousands of volunteers, staffers, and vendors – as an Olympics is geared to three things:

  • delivering a great experience for athletes and guests
  • providing inspiration to the world
  • making money, of course

The air travel ecosystem is complex as well, and as the role of IFEC and ancillary revenue continues to grow, it occurred to me that an Olympic Committee’s model of integrating multiple components of the transportation and destination experience could serve as a framework for airlines’ emerging desire to extend their customer relationships through
the total trip – via IFEC and mobile technology, personalized content and services, and improved airport experiences throughout the “60-hour cycle” I’ve referred to before.

Olympic Committees work closely with airlines, gateway and host city airports, hotels, and host cities not only to ensure appropriate security, but also facilitate a seamless immersion into the destination through the inbound flight, airport experience, ground transport, and relevant destination content.

The role of transport for an Olympics, like for any travel experience, is a challenge.

As soon as I arrived in Salt Lake, I was asked to take over Olympic Media Transportation – rebuilding a severely flawed system to serve 13,000 broadcasters, journalists, and photographers.

Never mind I had zero transportation experience, but I did recognize transportation would rarely be viewed by media as enhancing their jobs, but could easily detract from them by putting competition arrival times, deadlines, and their work at risk if executed poorly.

And since media influences the perception of the Olympic brand and host city in the eyes of the world, we needed to ensure media could do their jobs without fail. In fact, my goal was to avoid having transportation in the news at all – cynical, but realistic, since it’s typically mentioned only when things go wrong.

Sound familiar?

Travelers think similarly – the flight may not enhance a trip, but can easily detract from it.

So while safety, security, and operations will always justifiably be top priorities in an airline industry already shaped by a tough structural and economic model, an Olympic Committee has similar priorities, and the guest experience could easily be subordinated.

But whether an Olympics or air travel, it doesn’t have to be that way, and IFEC can take the lead in transforming the total trip experience.

In fact, IFEC has made some good progress in-flight lately, but as the world continues to open for digital information, entertainment, productivity, social engagement, and commerce, airlines can achieve their goals of owning customer relationships even better by actually sharing them – with IFEC and general technology as key enablers.

Whether it’s quality digital content, partnerships to offer same-day hotel bookings and room upgrades in-flight, or more, customers should respond favorably to a brand enabling a democratized, positive experience, not one that tries to contain them and views them as a “flying mall.”

In fact, I believe IFEC can help take the lead in Total Trip Experience and Connectivity – both in and outside the flight, and both examples below are great in the “60-hour cycle”:

• Amazon’s pre-flight and in-flight partnership with Delta – a better experience for Delta’s customers and a revshare opportunity for Delta (and Gogo). Amazon, in turn, benefits from its trusted retail brand as a Trojan Horse to establish customer acquisition channel for its entertainment aspirations.

• Delta’s new partnership with OTG Management in LaGuardia – stocking gates with better seating, iPads, and connectivity for entertainment and food service.

So how can this continue to evolve?

For those responsible for IFEC decisions and sorting through debates over Ku, Ka, etc, remember technology is just one tree in the forest of total trip experience and economic opportunity. Marketing departments, revenue/yield management groups, strategy groups, on-board experience groups (F&B, flight attendant), and in-airport operating groups have traditionally been siloed, but could work together to focus on the total passenger experience and technology.

A few airlines have broken the silos down. Others haven’t, but here are a few potential ideas:

• I recently saw a HotelTonight ad on an IFE homepage, but why not proactively ask travelers if they need a hotel that night? Then feed the relevant HotelTonight selection for that flight’s destination. In other words, prompt the conversation to drive hotel conversion and revenue share.

• In Salt Lake, we coached on-ground transport staff to be able to provide restaurant recommendations and other relevant content. Similarly, who on a flight could better engage people positively to provide hotel or restaurant recommendations than flight attendants who fly to destinations consistently? With IFEC systems serving up the content?

• Why not integrate with hotels to determine that a New York passenger is staying at the W Times Square – then deliver an ancillary revshare opportunity?

Here’s a bad example. I recently flew a red-eye in 1st class to see ailing grandparents, but when connecting to a regional jet without 1st-class seats, why was the experience not carried through – like simply boarding first (at 6am)? Why wasn’t this indicated – even though I booked on the airline’s website? I’m not a 1st-class diva (like the Olympic VIP in Salt Lake who kicked a volunteer because he wouldn’t stop traffic for her), but now I don’t trust that airline to deliver the experience I paid for, and I’ll choose a competitor next time.

Sebastian Coe of the London Games said, “Moments are what people tend to remember.”

Every Olympian has a tremendous story to cherish once the ecstasy or disappointment of the competition dissipates, and every Olympic visitor from around the world has a once-in-a-lifetime experience to share, like travelers in general.

Faster IFEC service via Ku, Ka, L, H+ or whichever proves effective is great, but an integrated approach focusing on each moment of interaction in the technology and passenger experience can create a powerfully positive long-term brand advantage.

IFEC is more naturally attuned to positive passenger experience than other airline functions, so what can your IFEC group do to lead other airline functional areas, partner hotels, destinations, and other providers to deliver those positive moments, while avoiding the moments people don’t want to remember?

In Salt Lake, we turned negative transport perception on its ear, and successful transportation was credited for contributing to the 2002 Winter Olympics being the best-managed in history. So how can you shift perception of transport to transforming the trip rather than detracting?

Knowing that if you do, unlike the airline I just flew, you’ll likely benefit economically even more in the long run?

Editor’s Note: * The 60-hr cycle is the approximate round trip time-frame an airline can engage with a traveler – through 24-hr advance check-in, in-airport / gate time, in-flight, and back.
Here are the 2 presentations/articles where Mr. Alford first laid it out almost 3 years ago. The OTG / Delta gate experience is a great example of IFEC extending into the gate touchpoint.

IFExpress Publisher’s Note: As you have seen, Jonathan has been an influential advocate over the past couple of years for changes taking place in IFE and in thinking both in and “outside the flight.” Currently with Lenati, LLC, he welcomes the opportunity to work with and build forward-thinking travel-focused companies. For those of you interested, Jonathan will be participating on the connected cabin panel at the Cabin Innovation and Strategy Seminar in Seattle on September 26th. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page –

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