"The environment in which airlines will operate in 2021 is definitely not a kind one. Solving the complex challenge of balancing long- and short-term goals will require smart marketers with broad knowhow," writes Iztok Franko, Founder of Diggintravel in his 2021 Airline Digital Trends Report. For digital airline professionals, it's all about doing more with less.

In his report, Franko outlines several trends worth watching out for within the airline digital retailing space. For the sake of understanding, he defines airline digital retailing as "a blend of ecommerce, digital marketing, conversion optimization, UX, ancillary revenue, revenue management, pricing, data and analytics. Below is a break down of some of the trends from the report.

New Digital Touchpoints

Contactless technology was already emerging at airports. Then COVID-19 happened accelerating the adoption of touchless, self-service experiences such as contactless check-in, baggage self-drop and biometrics.

Not only do these initiatives remove friction for travelers and reduce costs, it also gives airlines a host of new data points to derive insights from and improve service.

Convergence of Digital Touchpoints

This leads directly into the next trend. With the opportunity of more data also comes complexity. Airlines need to be able to sift through data, analyze it, democratize it across the organization and ultimately activate it.

Franko writes, "We still see data silos, data being collected within departments based on internal processes and organization. Digital marketing teams collect and use CRM, website analytics and social media data, while data from other touchpoints is the domain of other departments, like customer service, airport operations or in-flight experience."

For airlines to initiate successful commercial practices, having the data/digital points will not be enough. It will need to be centralized an effectively deployed to promote offers that resonate with travels at the right time.

"We still see data silos, data being collected within departments based on internal processes and organization. Digital marketing teams collect and use CRM, website analytics and social media data, while data from other touchpoints is the domain of other departments, like customer service, airport operations or in-flight experience."

Digital Health Passports

Whether it be a negative test or a COVID-19 vaccination, travelers will need to verify that they are eligible to fly and make travel safe. This opens the door for digital health passports. IATA has developed the framework with its Travel Pass. Airlines such as Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines are already trialing it.

IATA Travel Pass App Overview

There are a host of items for airlines to consider with Digital Health Passports from booking funnels, check-in and maybe even ancillaries.

Automation and Robots

As COVID-19 has created the need for more contactless interactions, robots have stepped up to fill the void. This not only includes tasks like temperature checks and disinfection, but has also made its way into airline operations.

According to Franko, AirAsia announced last year that they will start implementing robotic process automation (RPA) in order to automate mundane and repetitive tasks, so its workforce can focus on more complex tasks that require critical thinking and experience-based judgment.

We may even one day see customer service agent robots roaming around the airport.

Future of Work and Education

The COVID-19 outbreak and all of the measures that surround it has changed how we learn and work, and not just presently, but permanently. The rise of remote work and remote learning has a direct impact on the travel industry, and only time will tell how much.

Obviously, business travel is one of the biggest areas affected by this dramatic shift in behavior. Franko cites Amazon claiming to have saved $1 billion in travel expenses during the pandemic.

However, even amidst the challenges lies opportunities for airlines, especially when it comes to presenting special offers, bundling and ancillaries. Franko gives the example of United Airlines testing out a subscription product that bundles flights with meeting spaces.

The environment has shifted dramatically for airlines over the last year. Within all the uncertainty and turbulence are ways forward for airlines as long as they are able to adapt. Check out the full report to read all trends as well as hear the perspective of dozens of airline professionals on the rapidly changing digital space.