Earlier this week I was on the phone with a senior airline executive and he was asking me what I thought of the mobile phone and its role for the airline in extending eCommerce beyond the PC. What I didn’t know then, but I would surely have introduced into the conversation had I known, was the following guideline Apple gave to iPhone developers on February 3rd.

If you build your application with features based on a user’s location, make sure these features provide beneficial information. If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user’s location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store.

In our conversation I did mention Google buying Admob and Apple buying Quattro, and interestingly it was actually Admob who today made me aware of the statement from Apple. So why does this have any relevance for travel, and even more so, why could it be of benefit for airlines at the expense of some travel industry start-ups whose business plan has “mobile” written on every page?

Before I start, let me make clear that despite all the hype around the new technologies, one thing I have learnt over the years is that the best return of investment, as least on a risk adjusted basis, almost always comes from getting the basics right first. In the mobile context, the best strategy for an airline is to first ensure that as much post sale servicing as possible is moved out of the call centre and onto either SMS, a web enabled phone or a PC. This is where the mobile is most valuable to airlines right now, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to lose sight of where the big opportunities might be in future.

There is no doubt that the iPhone has opened so many doors in mobile for many others to thrive, especially start-ups doing innovative things on the platform. But I’m suspecting that Apple’s ownership of Quattro may be behind the statement on advertising they have given to developers, and you can tell from the tone in the Admob post that Admob/Google don’t like it. As I have said before on many occassions, airlines already know through the PNR where the traveller is going and can usually guess the context behind the trip. Using geolocation on a GPS enabled mobile phone might work for serving ads for a local restaurant, but the real money will come from airlines getting a bigger cut of the spend tourists already make on destination content like day cruises, amusement parks, event tickets etc. You don’t need to know where the person is down to the nearest 10 metres to be able to service those ads affectively and if you do it well by getting in early, the airline should be able to get more of it via email before the passenger even departs. Or at least definitely before they land, just like what Guestlogix have announced in their relationship with TicketSwitch, or what Allegiant are doing with their flights into Las Vegas and their relationship with The Blue Man Group. So Apple’s guidelines on advertising may negatively impact some, but they should have no negative impact at all on airlines trying to use mobile for increased ancillary revenue. 

Speaking of innovative marketing, yesterday I saw some incredible technology that Amadeus in the US had licenced earlier this month. I thought I knew what was at the cutting edge in this field, but what I saw blew me away. I’m always very wary of pushing my employer in these pages as I try to take a more neutral stance, and I’m not even sure if this is public information yet, but once I know more details and I know for sure that I am not breaching any confidential information, I’ll be sure to share it.

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