The report, commissioned by Amadeus and developed by Henley Centre HeadlightVision, a London-based strategic futures and marketing consultancy, describes four "traveler tribes" as they might behave in 2020:
- Active seniors, a huge group aged 50 to 75, who will be healthier and have more disposable income than previous generations. Airlines must address this group's physical issues, the report says.
For example, this group might appreciate receiving SMS boarding alerts and using handheld navigation devices that are programmed with their itineraries to help them get to the right place at the right time. They also may have their bags picked up by courier service the day before they depart on a trip, and they might pay extra to sit in a "child-free zone" on board the aircraft.
- Global clans, who will reflect the growth of global migration and travel internationally to visit friends and family. Currently, 191 million people live outside the country of their birth, a number that is likely to grow exponentially over the next few decades.
Price will be a key factor for this group, but airlines must meet the needs of families traveling together, from young children to their great-grandparents. For example, airlines might offer "virtual reality simulations" of the travel process, from check-in to airport navigation, security clearance and in-flight experience, to make the very young and very old more comfortable with traveling.
- Cosmopolitan commuters, who will live and work in different regions. These travelers will want to make the most of their travel time, so they will seek out features that enable them to work and communicate in flight, the report says.
A low-cost carrier that provides built-in laptops, for example, would be very attractive to them. And despite the fact that they will commute by air, commuters are likely to be "eco-conscious."
- Global executives, the most affluent group, who travel in premium class and may increasingly turn to private jets and air taxi services.
For these travelers, technology that provides flexible journey management is key: For example, if they arrive early at an airport, they would appreciate technology that allows them to board an earlier flight with minimum fuss. Robert Buckman, director of airline strategies for Amadeus North America, said the goal of the study was not to provide pie-in-the-sky predictions a la mid-20th century World's Fairs, but to stimulate a conversation about how airlines can "put the consumer at the center of technology." While some airlines have made strides in de-commoditizing their products and in providing a high degree of personalization, many others need to abandon their "one-size-fits-all" approach, he said. In an industry that is routinely brought to its knees by events beyond its control, the old joke is that airline planning is "knowing what you are doing after lunch." Fast-moving technology has been known to catch the industry on the hop. For example, with a few exceptions, the airline industry was slow to recognize the power of the Internet. But if the airlines don't adopt customer-centric technologies to meet the future needs of emerging demographic groups, "they won't be airlines anymore," Buckman said. The new breed of low-cost carriers has changed the marketplace, the report says. They open air travel to groups that previously could not afford to fly, and with "the booming middle class societies emerging in Asia, the opportunities will continue to be immense," he said. "We are at the crossroads of 'what's next'," he said. All airlines will align their cost structures in order to survive, he said, so they will need to compete on other levels.