Foursquare recently celebrated their first birthday, and what a good twelve months it has been. Take a look at this great summary on their usage and stats from Hitwise. Recently they announced they had broken their record for the most check-ins in one day, exceeding 275,000. But does this type of product have any relevance for airlines, and what can an airline learn from the success of Foursquare that could be used to drive extra revenue? The money airlines could make if they got smart about mobile is nothing new, but today I’m taking it from a slightly different angle.

I see that the Swiss lounge at JFK is a Foursquare venue, but what was much more interesting was a post from Parker Smith titled Foursquare: Democratizing the Loyalty Program. And then even more relevant than that one was a story on Jaunted called How Foursquare Has the Ability to Change the Way We Travel.

The city of Chicago recently announced they will be using Foursquare to promote their city to tourists.

Cinema lovers can re-enact memorable scenes from films such as The Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Dark Knight, all of which were partly shot in Chicago. The US destination’s tourist board is the first to use Foursquare as a tool to promote restaurants, attractions and activities.

This example from Chicago is probably the most relevant to any airline looking to use social tools in order to grow ancillary revenue. Not that the airlines themselves have to develop an independent app, but given the low adoption of Foursquare outside of the US (as a percentage of total travellers), then there is also no reason to be tied into this platform. The reason I mention ancillary revenue is because the destination content promoted as part of the real life game experience could in selected cases be locations that pay a commission to the referrer. And that is just scratching the surface of incremental revenue potential. These types of deals are more suited to be contracted and managed by companies like Isango, Viator or Unaira (I’ve believed in destination content for a long time), but the airlines have the critical mass of customers going to that destination to strongly influence the success or failure of the game experience – a handful of users in a destination would make it is pretty boring game!

Where this gets even more interesting for an airline is if it is teamed with the mystery flight concept. Jet Blue ran an entire plane as a mystery flight, but I’ve never understood why airlines that in the past sold mystery flights directly no longer offer the product – to me it seemed like a good way to ensure unsold seats flew as RPK’s.  

Matt Gross in the New York Times summed up Foursquare pretty well recently when he wrote, “It’s a little geeky, I guess, but if someone can create the ultimate frugal-traveling-social-networking-location-aware-smartphone-compliant application, I’ll be all over it.

If social business is something that has you interested, and the fact that you have read this far almost certainly means the answer is yes, AND if you are in Sydney on Thursday March 25th, Headshift are running an event that I would strongly recommend trying to secure an invitation to. I was invited but unfortunately left Sydney a couple of weeks too early to be able to attend. They are calling it their Social Business Summit, and they have a great lineup, including Jeff Dachis fresh from the huge SXSW event in Austin, Texas. I was fortunate to catch up with Stephen Bartlett-Bragg (Executive Director, Headshift Australasia) recently and given his strong airline e-commerce credentials (EB2 IBE founder, since sold to Sabre) combined with the ability of Headshift’s Asia Pacific operations to match consulting with implementation and development, it is a real pity that I am unable to attend this event – I’ll have to plan my next trip to Australia a bit better!