Report: Airports Could Be the Next Big Beacon Hubs

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Anyone who appreciates beacons can fathom why airports are such ideal environments for the bluetooth devices, and for proximity technology in general. In these sprawling travel hubs, there are many levels of consumer activity happening all at once. You’ve got an array of retailers selling everything from duty-free goods to neck pillows; busy restaurants and bars, and sometimes even spas. Then you’ve got everyday travel chaos of people trying to locate their gates and stay up-to-the-minute with flight information and stay occupied during unexpected delays.

All the while smartphones are out. For location-based marketers, the airport is a world of opportunity.

In U.S airports, we don’t see as much beacon activity as we might expect, but a new report by Unacast’s proximity marketing network service, Proxbook, indicates that that’s all about to change. The Q3 2016 Proxbook Report: Proximity Marketing In Airports & Transportation,found that as of now, 35 percent of the top 20 American airports have deployed beacons, but that by 2019, 84 percent of all global airports will be involved in a deployment or a trial project with beacons or other proximity sensors.

Proxbook did not figure how much of this 84 percentage would comprise U.S based airports, but Thomas Walle, CEO and co-founder of Unacast, speculates that it will be a substantial number, especially as U.S consumers become more and more reliant on Bluetooth.

“In order for an app to communicate [with a beacon, one’s] Bluetooth needs to be turned on, which has been an obstacle [for the widespread adoption of beacon technology],” said Walle, adding that this obstacle appears to be dying out. “A few years ago an average of 30 percent of users had Bluetooth turned on, now it’s at 50 percent.”

Now that Apple has made the controversial move of removing its headphone jack in its newest smartphone models (leaving prospective listeners no choice but to use Bluetooth-enabled heasets), Walle predicts that consumers will no longer opt to turn on Bluetooth so much as they will default to it.

“Same goes for the increase of connected cars and smartwatches and home smart systems,” says Walle. “The [mobile] industry is going toward Bluetooth which means that it will [often] be on because so much technology will depend upon it.”

Smartphone users tend to be rather precious with Bluetooth because, Walle says, they’re worried it drains battery, but adds that this is no longer the case as the technology around Bluetooth grows and fortifies.

Increased usage of Bluetooth by consumers should help spread beacon technology in airports, but there are other, more pressing reasons as to why there aren’t that many beacons deployed yet at U.S airports. Walle says the shortage has to do with the sheer amount of beacons an airport needs in order to run a campaign.

“Retail is very simple, but with airports, fleet management is important,” said Walle, adding that the issue of security is another factor that can get in the way of airports bringing in new mobile technology. “For these reasons, it’s taking a bit more time for the airport vertical to adopt beacons.”

Ultimately, the customer satisfaction pros will outweigh the financial cons. Airports, Walle says, will continue to see the enormous benefits that beacons bring consumers.

“There’s far more waiting at airports than there used to be in part because of enhanced security,” says Walle. “We all know sitting around and waiting is not [pleasant], and beacons allow for more opportunities in terms of shopping, dining, and even navigating the airport. Also, airports are learning that companies are not only delivering offer [via] beacons, but collecting valuable proximity data that can be used for analytics, retargeting, and attribution.”

Proxbook’s report also looked at subways and trains, observing what Walle perceives to be a missed opportunity among U.S train companies, particularly the MTA, where increasingly passengers are trying to go paperless. Europe, for reasons Walle said he could not specifically identify, is ahead of U.S in terms of beacon deployment in trains.

“Eighty percent of people in the U.S say they would pay more [for a subway pass] if the system was paperless,” said Walle. “A beacon-enabled system in the U.S could make travel paperless and extremely convenient, checking the passenger in as soon as they set foot on the train.”

Nicole Spector is a contributor to Street Fight.