July 2016 | Airlines have long relied on awards and recognitions from industry watchers and major publications to reassure customers of the quality of their products and services, in very much the same way that professional critics and ratings firms have put their seal of approval on restaurants and hotels for decades.
But the rise of the internet has disrupted that ‘expert-review’ dynamic. The active participation of consumers on ratings sites which evaluate everything from films to books to consumer goods to services, and of course travel, suggests that today’s consumers trust popular opinion over ratings which could be perceived as an extension of marketing and advertising (a.k.a ‘the experience is the marketing’).
TripAdvisor is now looking to shake up the airline industry the same way it has hotels, by launching airline reviews. The sixteen year old travel review site has accrued over 350 million individual travel reviews covering 6.5 million hotels, restaurants and attractions and has now expanded its TripAdvisor Flights service to let customers grade and review airlines around the world in much the same way that they would review a night’s stay somewhere.
These reviews are then combined with an external rating of the amenities on a particular route, such as the type of seat offered and whether there are power ports and wi-fi available to flyers, to give it an overall ‘FlyScore’ which will rate the quality of an itinerary on a 1 to 10 scale.
Consumers can sort their flight search results by price, duration, the ‘FlyScore’, or a blend of factors categorised by TripAdvisor as “Best value of time and money.” TripAdvisor expects to refine the system, introducing further enhancements this year.
According to The Economist, “History suggests the firm has a good chance of making an eventual impact. If it does reach its potential, it might just encourage flyers to change their buying behaviour. If customers are willing to pay, say, $30 more for a seat rated as excellent compared with one that is terrible, then maybe airlines will pull out of their race to the bottom. A world in which carriers compete for the quality of the reviews they receive, as well as the price they offer, would be a better one.”
Already, a mix of full service and low-cost carriers from around the world – including Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Cebu Pacific, HK Express, Air Canada, AeroMexico, SWISS, Aer Lingus and Transavia – have embraced TripAdvisor’s new metrics.
Transavia, for example, sees new opportunities to connect with customers in the enhanced TripAdvisor platform, and encourages its customers to share honest feedback about their flight experience at the end of their journey.
“Open and transparent communication plays an important role in this and this option allows our customers to write a review in an easy way. With airline reviews on TripAdvisor we can engage with our customers even more, since we will answer questions in the reviews when necessary,” says Paul de Raad, Head of Marketing and eCommerce at Transavia.
Time for Transparency
Bryan Saltzburg, TripAdvisor’s General Manager Global Flights, believes now is an ideal time for airlines to show transparency in their products and to improve how consumers’ compare and shop for flights. “Over the years, the in-flight experience has changed dramatically—in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse. We know our users tell us it is not always easy for travellers to find the best options by just looking at the baseline price of a flight,” Saltzburg says.
“We’re uniquely solving that problem by surfacing candid traveler reviews and photos, detailed amenities information and tools to find the lowest fares all on one site empowering flyers to pick the best itinerary for their trip.”
Transparency of the passenger experience is also a major driver behind Airbus’ new AirSpace cabin concept.
As Airbus VP Cabin Marketing Ingo Wungetzer puts it: “In today’s connected world, there is tremendous information transparency for consumers, literally at their fingertips and this is also coming to the air travel industry. Passengers are increasingly expecting to know the details of the on-board experience and openly share their experiences in social media in order to find the best value. So naturally it’s important for us that also passengers, not only experts, understand our cabin philosophy, and that flying in an Airbus is directly associated with significant advantages.”
TripAdvisor is not the only platform which has grown from the desire to give flyers what could be perceived as more objective metrics to help inform their bookings decisions.
Like any other review of an experiential product, there is a subjective element to this objective scoring, but the company has established standards to calculate these experiential factors, applies them universally, and it could be argued, gives more refined and defined data to justify its scoring.
Routehappy’s approach has been more collaborative, and focused on delivering the company’s data to the supplier sites through integration subscriptions.
With airlines, like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Delta and United, Routehappy goes beyond data integrations to helping deliver a rich product content platform which showcases the airlines’ products and services.