The Travel in Motion and Oystin teams attended Aviation Festival Asia this week. We had the opportunity to catch up with industry colleagues in warmer climates, and the opportunity to taste some fantastic local dishes too! Though there was one experience that we rarely get to trial at home in Europe: the super app.
Super apps are prominent here in Southeast Asia and China. They offer a wide range of financial instruments and online-to-offline services such as food delivery, package delivery and transportation. These super apps position themselves in their user’s daily life and create a marketplace around just about anything. The apps are typically connecting buyers with suppliers that, until now, may not have had a digital presence, for example taxi drivers, takeaway houses, and laundrettes.
The super apps have the similar measures for success: user acquisition and retention. It’s all about user activity (and accompanying revenue, of course). They prioritise having access to the right content overlaid with making a customer’s shopping, booking and fulfilment experience excellent. In doing so they increase their share of sales with the supplier, putting them in a superior distribution position. For some services they even set the price, for example with ride hailing.
Customers who find something easy to use return time and time again, often no longer giving the competitors a second look. The super apps are a snowball, the value users place in their brands are increasing and the more daily users they acquire, the easier it is to launch a successful new service.
Airlines too have capitalised on their well-known brand to become part of a user’s daily life, albeit in a different way – the loyalty programme partnership. Your wallet may contain a credit card with an airline logo, your supermarket may advertise the opportunity to earn points and whilst you top up fuel for your car, you may also be topping up your air miles account too.
Whilst airlines are striving to become better retailers, a super app is an extreme form and its value versus cost is unproven. Here are some questions to consider before going down this path:
- “Is it a feasible proposition for an airline to execute on? Would it lead to positive daily experiences with its brand or lead to negative brand impact?”,
- “Why would consumers choose an airline over Grab, Uber, WeChat etc…?”,
- “Should an airline offer these additional services and become a more integral part of users’ daily lives?”,
- “Does the current loyalty play, where airlines partner with everyday brands, already go far enough to build brand loyalty and affinity to the airline?”, and
- “Would it lead to consumers valuing the airline brand so much that they don’t shop for flights elsewhere?”
Super apps are built on a deep motivation for excellent user experience, consistency, and commercial policies which promote an ease of doing business. To meet these expectations, super apps have modern, fast, and scalable systems.
One question that arises is whether super apps pose a risk to an airline’s distribution and commercial strategies, could a super app change the airline market in the same way it did for ride hailing. Very few super apps offer public transportation services today. Air Asia’s super app does sell flights and hotels. However, it is powered by an online travel agency (OTA) so the experience is limited to what the OTA can provide, which in turn is often limited by the functionality of the airline. Uber has recently launched trains and coaches on its app and has shown an intent to sell flights too. However, they obtain their content, they are likely to face the same issues as Air Asia, the experience they can provide is limited to what the airline’s capabilities are.
So, should an airline enter this space too? Are they at risk of missing out? Airlines have a lot of competing priorities to contend with, such as their own financial stability as they recover from the COVID-era. Purists may argue that airlines should focus on efficient, safe, and enjoyable transportation. Others within the airlines are focused on a diversification of income streams by leveraging the airline brand. An example of where this has been successful is the airline loyalty business units. They were able to raise funds during COVID, which for some airlines provided a significant lifeline.
Travel in Motion’s (TiM) opinion is that running a consistent experience across multiple services is not for the faint-hearted. This takes considerable focus to get it right, and that will lead to less attention on the airline’s core business. However, we do believe airlines still can learn a lot from the super app experience to guide their own digital offering. Offering relevant and personalised offers, easy-to-use booking systems and a well-designed digital experience to accompany the physical travel journey is extremely valuable to a growing segment of customers.
Airlines have already started down this path by pursuing modern offer and order management systems, a key enabler to meeting the modern customer’s expectation. Those systems could help airlines become a super app. However, we at TiM believe there are many areas airlines will choose to improve once they have a modern technology stack. In doing so they will strive to improve customer satisfaction, revenue, and de-risk being commoditised.
In the meantime, whether you are attended Aviation Festival Asia or not, consider downloading a super app and experience what your customers are experiencing on a daily basis.
(Jason Balluck, 7. March 2023)