AI and emerging tech driving changes in airports & lounges in India

By Vikas Kapoor, CFO and CIO, Travel Food Services

Airports across the world are at a pivotal point in technology adoption. A 2017 SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques) report expected 80% of airlines to invest in emerging technologies[1]. Last year, the company, which provides IT support to airlines, had further focused on driving AI-based solutions to augment operational experiences. A similar move can be seen at airport lounges that are now increasingly emphasising the use of these emerging technologies to increase consumer engagement while enabling safe and seamless passenger experiences, as well as streamlining operations, gathering consumer insight, and ensuring optimal use of resources.

While AI-driven solutions have already been part of the airport ecosystem for some time now, through tools like biometric systems and facial recognition[2], the focus is now shifting towards greater operational efficiency and meeting consumer expectations. Faster adoption of these technologies can help airports minimise the impact of disruptions, improve passenger experience, and ensure optimal efficiency in operations.

AI Solutions at Airport Lounges

Airport lounges cover a wide spectrum of services that can be further complicated by the nature of their business. Food & Beverage (F&B) operators who run airport lounges in India often work across states, with regional differences in-laws and regulations that influence different facets of their operations, such as labour management or tax compliance. Each lounge operates as a separate legal entity, creating a complex network of businesses.  AI-based solutions for airport lounges are, consequently, being implemented to streamline and standardise some of these functions.

These solutions can be categorised into two buckets – back-office functions and customer engagement. While back-office functions relate to areas like treasury, information technology, human resources, and finance, customer engagement extends from the first point of contact with the traveller to the point of exit.

Streamlining back-office functions

Some of the most significant AI-based improvements lie in the financial management of lounges. The three main areas of applications here are B2B accounts payable, accounts receivable, and treasury operations. AI-led applications have helped businesses simplify and streamline compliance to legal and tax complexities in different states. These solutions have also significantly shortened the billing cycle, ensuring that the business can maintain its short working capital cycle.

AI technology has allowed further rationalisation of IT functions, such as ticketing cycles, resolving employee/passenger queries, or automating low-level permissions. Another area where AI and machine learning have made a radical change is wealth management. Treasury bots, designed on the lines of robo-advisors, have automated investments based on earnings and investment goals, carrying out end-to-end investment decisions.

Enhancing customer engagement

Ultimately, the goal of any business is to increase revenue, and active, extensive customer engagement plays a vital role. AI can be instrumental in meeting consumer expectations, evaluating usage patterns, and ensuring compliance with hygiene and service standards. For instance, digital marketing tools are at the forefront of initiatives like virtual kiosks or delivering food at the airport gates. Data analysis provides information on consumer behaviour at airports, their food preferences, and fluctuations in footfalls.

Machine learning algorithms have further augmented customer insights, such as tracking the pattern of purchases when check-in procedures take time or the variations in food preferences across regions. Lounge food catering services use this data to predict consumer behaviour and tailor their services accordingly. AI-embedded technology is used to monitor financial transactions at the till, and operations like table and custom clearance. In the current scenario, the same technology can also help enforce hygiene standards.

In the last few years, there has been a paradigm shift towards robotics, AI, and machine learning solutions across different areas of airport operations. For example, SITA has already launched innovative measures like check-in robots to help passengers[3]. In India, Kempegowda International Airport at Bengaluru has KEMPA, a home-grown robot assistant designed to answer flight-related queries, suggest tourist destinations in Karnataka, or be used for entertainment purposes[4]. For the Food & Beverage industry too, AI-embedded solutions will continue to drive self-service and resource optimisation, while improving financial operations.

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