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Miami Int'l Airport leverages navigational beacons for mobile app

Miami International Airport is rolling out a new mobile application that leverages bilingual functionalities, real-time flight tracking and navigational beacons designed to streamline and personalize travelers? experiences at the facility.

The MIA Airport Official app was created to help the airport stay ahead in the technological field and provide easy-to-use features for iPhone and Android users. The ?Around Me? functionality includes a guide to information about shopping, dining, flights, ground transportation and airport parking and enables users to see what amenities are within a five-minute walk of their location.

?While I expect airports to begin experimenting with beacons in targeted scenarios and markets, there are still several limitations that we need to overcome if we're going to see widespread deployment,? said Michael Nero, senior consultant at Headspring Systems, Austin, Texas.  ?Beacons have a limited range - most are limited to 70 meters - so you won't, for example, see them used to help a traveler navigate across the airport to their departing gate, but they may be useful in notifying the traveler when they are near their gate.

?Beacon proximity is also always approximate.?

Installing beacons
The airport installed more than 200 beacons created to help travelers navigate the facility in September. The updated version of the app, developed with Austin-based mobile app firm Phunware, will enable consumers to receive information on their mobile devices based on proximity to the beacons.

The beacons will help trigger smartphone notifications when consumers walk past a store, target repeat customers and send general advertisements for services and products. Airport officials believe that it will streamline the entire flying process, especially if a child is traveling unaccompanied by an adult.

If parents are concerned about a child arriving at the gate, a beacon-enabled app could ease their worries and inform them of their child?s location.

The airport also hopes to use beacons in conjunction with a loyalty program. When an app user lands back on the ground, he or she can be welcomed to the airport with a free Starbucks coffee or similar item.

?More brands should look to leverage beacons with loyalty programs, but it should not be the first feature rolled out to users,? Mr. Nero said. ?Brands should focus first on delivering customer service oriented features that augment the user's experience, and then provide the option to opt-in to loyalty programs or receiving deals.?

User personalization
The MIA Airport Official app?s other features, such as bilingual capability in English and Spanish, display the airport?s desire to create an all-encompassing app for user customization. With real-time flight tracking and a user-friendly guide to airport information, travelers can feel equipped for streamlined navigation during the hectic flying process.

?In order to see high adoption rates and positive reactions, the experiences would need to deliver some kind of personal benefit to the user,? Mr. Nero said. ?For example, if a traveler arrived early to the gate, it might be useful to show what restaurants, bars or gift shops are nearby to help them pass the time.

?For the short-term, airports should focus on customer-service oriented experiences to acclimate the end user to the technology, and then allow them to opt-in to deals over time.?

The airport also needs to ensure that its guests find use for the beacons. With some consumers still worried about privacy issues, Miami International Airport must display the beacons? relevancy and personal value to the customer.

?It's all about the experience,? said Ben Reubenstein, president of POSSIBLE Mobile, Denver, Colo. ?There are two key factors that drive success here, conversion of users within the airport to app users and the effectiveness of messaging while using the app. 

?The airport is an inherently busy place with many tasks that travelers dread, such as security.  Messaging to users at the right time is key in order to not create frustration and uninstalls of the application.?

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York