Heading for a higher plane

Air travellers are an attractive market – often young, wealthy, and a captive audience. Media opportunities, as Stephanie Bentley explains, are plentiful.

Last year, 1.6 billion passengers – more than the population of China – travelled by air.

Air traffic increased by 6.7 per cent, more than twice the rate of the world economic growth – which managed just 3.2 per cent. But while global growth may falter due to wars, currency crises and recession, there is no sign that growth in air travel is abating.

This explosion in the airborne travel trade is opening up new ways for advertisers to reach a very desirable group of consumers – the affluent travelling public.

The total number of scheduled aircraft departures will rise by more than a quarter in the next ten years, and aircraft kilometres flown will rise by more than a half, according to forecast from the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA).

The travelling public is a large and captive market that brand companies are keen to target. They are worth the effort – being more upmarket, with higher disposable income and greater shopaholic tendencies than the average consumer.

They are also getting younger: over the next three years, the number of 16- to 25-year-olds using airports will grow by 50 per cent. Younger, as any marketer knows, means more impressionable, and easier to target with brand messages.

These airborne cash dispensers already show a return on investment. Heathrow Airport now rivals any shopping mall in its choice of retail outlets, and last year, BAA retail revenue reached 606m.

The travel explosion has created a market for media outlets to reach these international travellers.

There have always been TV shows and magazines dealing with holidays, but in the past five years or so, there has been a flood of programmes, magazines and magazine spin-offs which cover all aspects of travel and holidays.

In the UK now, there are at least 20 travel programmes on holidays and travel in any one week – including the Real Holiday Programme, Rough Guide, and Turner Round the World. There is even a channel devoted to the subject, called The Travel Channel, which is broadcast on cable and satellite.

Opportunities for reaching the audience have never been greater. The world airport poster market is now estimated to be worth between $250m to $300m (156m to 187m), while the growth of special lounges for first class and business passengers has meant an increase in promotion and sponsorship opportunities aimed at the captive audience within these lounges.

The first medium to benefit from the travel boom was the world international news sector, with titles such as Time, Newsweek, the Economist and the Financial Times, which have built circulation through launching international editions. Pan-European TV has established itself as an ideal medium to reach busy executives spending much of their time on business travel. CNN launched in Europe in 1985, to be followed by NBC Superchannel European Business News (EBN), BBC World, CNBC and Euronews. These channels don’t target only travellers; but their presence in hotel rooms across Europe make them an obvious vehicle to reach business travellers.

The first inflight media, airlines’ own magazines, have in the past lacked credibility, being perceived as duty-free advertising fodder with no interesting articles, which passengers only flicked through. But the growing realisation that they are a direct communication route from the airline to the customer has led to improved production values and editorial content.

The growth of long-haul flights also means passengers are now more likely to turn to inflight media for entertainment. A total of 84 per cent of passengers on long-haul now read the airline magazine, on average for 29 minutes – double the average UK domestic magazine reading time.

All airlines now offer radio and most offer TV – another driving force behind the improvement in inflight magazines. Some first and business classes offer personal seat-back TVs with the option of separate programming for business or first-class passengers. As with terrestrial TV, programmes can be sponsored, or spots can be bought. Overall, 87 per cent of passengers who are offered inflight TV watch it. Average viewing time on long-haul flights is two hours and 25 minutes.

Interactive media is available on Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Virgin, with the potential to offer services such as online shopping, gambling, arcade-style games and videos.

Online news is available on Singapore, Virgin and Malaysian Airlines. Reuters transmits news every hour through a satellite link which feeds into the plane, enabling passengers to access hour-old news, even on a 20-hour flight. Real-time TV and video-on-demand are promised in the future.

Media saturation may have hit national markets, leaving brand owners wondering how to fight their way through the profusion of newspapers, magazines and television channels in the search for increasingly atomised groups of consumers.

But well-heeled air travellers are a captive market with plenty of spare cash and the desire to spend it.

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