The owner of Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports is creating a technology and e-commerce business to respond to technology-driven changes in the way passengers travel.
Manchester Airports Group’s MAG-O, which opened in new specially designed offices on site at the north-west airport this month, has recruited 65 experts drawn from the technology industry’s biggest names.
Key hires have included software developers, designers, system architects and user experience specialists.
MAG-O plans to grow in headcount by a further 50% by April 2018 to drive the transformation of passenger services and to move the airport experience into a new digital era.
The tech unit sits at arms-length from the rest of the group to encourage the development of innovative and fresh thinking away from the day-to-day operation.
Much of its inspiration is being sought from outside the airport industry.
Dozens of new initiatives have been trialled, tested and introduced across MAG’s digital outlets, with many of the improvements already proving familiar to users of brands such as Amazon, Spotify, John Lewis and Asos.
The move follows passenger feedback that showed that they were underwhelmed by the digital experience on offer at airports generally, and that in recent years their expectations of customer service had increased.
One of first tasks has been a complete redesign and relaunch of the group’s airport websites, with each one now delivering significantly faster load speeds and a more intuitive user experience. The sites are designed to be used on mobile devices, reflecting the fact that 60% of traffic is from passengers either at the airport or on their way.
Other planned initiatives involve improving the efficiency of terminals and car parks, and offering passengers new online experiences.
Back-office systems are also being redesigned, including online retail platforms and car park yield management systems.
Nolan Hough, appointed managing director of MAG-O having previously run the group’s car parking operation, said: “For many of our passengers, the super-slick experiences that they get from dedicated tech companies and popular venues like Disney and the Etihad Stadium are now the norm.
“MAG-O is about bringing that sort of thinking to the way we serve our passengers, so that they can enjoy their time at the airport. Our mission is to connect up the journey in so that passengers get a much smoother, and stress-free, experience.”
He added: “Everyone within this new team comes to work aiming to challenge the wider business to evolve our passenger offering so it embraces the modern demands of both online and offline customer experience.
“We are essentially a start-up and already MAG-O has introduced a number of changes to the wider MAG operation that have made a noticeable difference to passengers, including how they are able to find and book flights, receive live flight notifications, and purchase car parking & fast track services.
“In the future, we are targeting a truly personalised airport experience where as a passenger you will be guided directly to your parking space via mobile web services, have your food ready and waiting for you at the restaurant of your choice and be able to take advantage of personalised discounts in our shops and then finally be guided to the plane at exactly the right time for boarding.”