This year’s FTE APEX Asia Expo, taking place in less than two weeks (9-10 November 2022) will be the first with Star Alliance as a headline partner. Ahead of the event, FTE spoke with Jeffrey Goh, CEO, Star Alliance, about the group’s “multi-dimensional strategy to elevate customer experience”, its new “centre of excellence” in Singapore, the expansion of Star Alliance Biometrics, and why industry executives should attend FTE APEX Asia Expo.
Future Travel Experience (FTE): What is your assessment of how passenger demand is performing in terms of business and leisure travel internationally?
Jeffrey Goh (JG): In general, recovery has been stellar following the deepest and darkest crisis for aviation. For the industry as a whole, taking into account international and domestic travel, we are not quite where we were in 2019; we will probably end 2022 somewhere around 75% of 2019 numbers. Different geographic markets are, however, recovering at different paces; likewise, for business and leisure travel. Demand in business travel is still tentative but promising. Leisure travel, on the other hand, has exceeded initial projections.
FTE: Star Alliance celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with the launch of a new brand tagline – “Together. Better. Connected.” – and a commitment to further develop seamless connectivity. What new digital and mobile innovations are being implemented as part of this renewed focus?
JG: After 25 years, we felt it was time to refresh the tagline to reflect more accurately the strategy of the Alliance in delivering a seamless travel experience across our global network; seamless in the sense of airport experience as well as digitally. We have been working on progressively phasing in the ability of customers to access the digital services of our member airlines seamlessly through the customer’s channel of choice; for example, the selection of seats on a multi-airline itinerary.
FTE: Star Alliance is dedicated to “a multi-dimensional strategy to elevate customer experience”. What efforts are being across the Star Alliance network with regards to the key pillars of “digitalisation of the journey” and “industry-first innovations”?
JG: Innovation is the DNA of Star Alliance. We are constantly exploring new travel solutions with our member airlines and partners to address a seamless experience in the intersections of a customer’s multi-airline journey.
Star Alliance opens Singapore “centre of excellence”
FTE: Star Alliance has opened a “centre of excellence” in Singapore. Why is this an important step forward in the post-COVID recovery, and what role will it play in “future-proofing the Alliance”?
JG: As our member airlines navel-gazed and projected into the future, in the midst of an existential crisis, we were also not immune. It was imperative that we asked ourselves of whether business-as-usual was still an option with respect to our strategy and organisation; let a crisis not go to waste. The Board concluded that a refresh would be an important step to future-proof Star Alliance and that Singapore offered the environment to that end.
FTE: Why was Singapore chosen for the second Star Alliance “centre of excellence” after Frankfurt? What makes Singapore a key market for Star Alliance?
JG: We looked at a comprehensive list of criteria including key global indices on innovation, competitiveness as well as ease of doing business.
FTE: How will the Star Alliance “centre of excellence” complement and further expand on the work of the innovation hubs that member airlines Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines have established in Singapore?
JG: We are always looking for ways to collaborate with the innovation hubs of our member airlines throughout the world, not only in Singapore with Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. Innovation has no geographic boundaries.
FTE: What key projects is the “centre of excellence” currently working on as Star Alliance progresses its strategy in digital customer experience?
JG: In the immediate years prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we have been working on a number of digital and automation initiatives, among others, offering customers the ability to redeem miles online across the Alliance. While we did not stop work completely during the COVID-19 years, we were calibrated in advancing our digital and automation strategy. As we navigate out of the crisis, we are pushing hard to advance the delivery of the digital products we had stated, including the ability of customers to select seats or track their bag across a multi-airline itinerary, as well as the further adoption of our biometrics and digital connection solutions.
FTE: Star Alliance Biometrics, launched in 2020, is now available across four major airports – Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna – with Hamburg added in April 2022. What impact is this having on streamlining the passenger experience? And what plans are there to expand Star Alliance Biometrics to more member airlines and partner airports outside Europe?
JG: The product was launched in the midst of the worst crisis for the airline industry. Initial indications are that it delivers positive customer experience and process efficiencies. The basic aim of the product is to deliver efficient and convenient customer experience, not only for boarding an aircraft without a boarding pass, but for dropping off a bag, entering a lounge or passing through security check points, or even making duty free purchases, all without a boarding pass. We are working with our member airlines and a number of interested hub airports in the Star Alliance network to introduce our biometrics product.
FTE: How successful has the Star Alliance Digital Connection Service been at London Heathrow Airport, and what plans are there to further expand this across the Star Alliance network?
JG: Likewise, this product was introduced in November 2020 (in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis) at London Heathrow Airport with Singapore Airlines as the launch airline. For the small number of customers who have used it, the product has worked well. But, we are working with a number of airports in our network and will soon be announcing the next airport to adopt the Digital Connection Service.
FTE: Star Alliance has navigated one of the most difficult periods for our industry with a strong focus on enabling seamless travel despite a constantly-changing environment. Post-pandemic, what do you feel passengers really want now and how are passenger trends changing?
JG: In our 20th anniversary, our strategy pivoted deliberately towards making the customer journey better. It was in recognition of the new norm in customer expectations where they are mobile first, always connected, and expect information on demand and services at their fingertips, and thus the imperative for us to participate in that new universe. During the COVID-19 years, we have become more accustomed to digital applications and experiences, and it is a sound expectation that customers will continue to demand efficient, seamless digital services that would enhance their experience and engagement.
Collaborating to remove frictions in the customer journey
FTE: What are the ways in which you think airlines, airports, and their partners could work more effectively together to improve customer journeys, enhance operations, reduce costs and increase revenue creation?
JG: Now, more than ever, the stakeholders in the aviation ecosystem must work collaboratively to remove frictions in the customer journey and deliver a safe, seamless and efficient experience; this includes removing processes that are no longer required or can be augmented by technology, putting in place conveniences, delivering instant communication and service recovery steps.
FTE: You have led Star Alliance from its 20th to its 25th anniversaries, driving the digitalisation and automation of Star Alliance customer products and services, and recently announced you will step down from your role as CEO at the end of the year. What are your proudest achievements across your tenure? And how important is continued digital transformation and seamless connectivity across the airline network going forward?
JG: Critically important. As a global airline alliance that transports over 700 million customers each year (pre-COVID), many across multi-airline itineraries, the Alliance will continue to focus on the proposition that ensures seamlessness in the intersections of that customers’ journey; the physical and digital experience. I am proud that in the years immediately prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we had begun to put in place and execute a strategy on digitalisation and automation while ensuring that the strengths of the global network is protected. We have delivered conveniences for our customers in the loyalty space and in airport experience and in strengthening the network with the Connecting Partner Model and the Intermodal Partner Model. And to be recognised for consecutive years as the leading global airline alliance by international award organisations.
FTE: Looking into the future, do you see emerging trends like the metaverse as a threat or an opportunity to travel?
JG: One constant of the airline industry is innovation and disruption. They need to be embraced. Like the crisis of COVID-19, metaverses or video conferences enabling remote working should be embraced as opportunities.
FTE: This year’s FTE APEX Asia Expo will be the first with Star Alliance as a headline partner. What is the Star Alliance team most looking forward to about the show, and what words of encouragement do you have on why industry executives should attend?
JG: We are looking forward to being part of a key industry event that brings together stakeholders and partners from across the aviation ecosystem, and to contribute to the thought-leadership opportunities of the event.
FTE: And lastly, what do you think Star Alliance will look like in the next 10 years and what are your hopes for the future of our sector? What tech are you most excited about?
JG: Star Alliance will continue to lead the way as the most digitally-advanced global airline alliance that delivers seamless experiences with a loyalty proposition that others talk about.
Star Alliance’s Jeffrey Goh will address attendees at FTE APEX Asia Expo in the Opening Keynote Panel on Wednesday 9 November, where he will share his leadership perspective on successfully scaling back up, attracting, empowering and retaining workforce, collaboration, innovation, passenger experience, digital transformation, sustainability, lessons learned from the pandemic, and post-pandemic health and travel requirements, alongside speakers from Jetstar Asia, Changi Airport Group, SITA and AirAsia Malaysia. Meanwhile, other key executives from the alliance will be speaking across the two conference stages, including Star Alliance’s Director Loyalty Renato Ramos; Director Travel Experience Jesse Jalleh; and Manager, Customer Experience (Baggage) Paige See, who will discuss topics such as the future of e-commerce and ancillaries in air transport, evolving biometric approaches and baggage innovation.