Last week marked the tenth, but my first, Mega Event Worldwide, held at the historic Don Caesar hotel in St Petersburg, Florida.
Due to its curiously quiet marketing and past event information, it’s hard to get a real sense of the importance of Mega and its standing amongst the numerous annual aviation conferences held around the world. Yet from speaking to past attendees in recent months, it’s an event that consistently brings together the biggest airlines to break bread over the latest developments in aviation technology, business and strategy, and provides a looking glass into what’s ahead. One look at the delegate list released a few days before it kicked off confirmed all the heavy hitters would be there.
Unsurprisingly, innovation has been a prevalent theme over recent years, and the 2019 edition was no different as technology dominated many of the talks featured across Mega’s ancillary, loyalty and co-brand/rewards tracks. The recently added ‘Lion’s Den’ (think Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank) had a similarly tech-centric theme, with mobile data business GigSky and data science innovator Beyond Analysis scooping the awards on day one.
It’s one of aviation’s ironies that whilst technology is rapidly penetrating the industry, particularly from third party businesses, the bedrock of the vast majority of airlines’ systems is antiquated. As IFT Consulting’s Director Ian Tunnacliffe stated during his ancillary talk, “most airline operating systems today date back to the 1980s and even 1940s.” I heard many times over my three days at Mega, the archaic nature of these systems means third party businesses entering aviation with a new product must prioritise ease of adoption for airlines, something that’s been a key focus as we’ve built our product at Upgrade Pack.
Technology’s impact on payments was also widely discussed at Mega. On the stage for the event’s opening discussion was Rob Soderbery from Uplift whose rapidly growing business allows customers to spread the cost of airline purchases, from a seat down to the smallest of ancillaries. By enabling travellers to pay for their travel in instalments, Uplift has provided greater flexibility and convenience for the consumer and has quickly built trust with both consumers and airline customers they are partnering with.
Cryptocurrency’s potential role in aviation, specifically for ancillary revenue generation and loyalty programs, was also on the agenda for Mega 2019, with representatives from software developers Tag Innovation putting blockchain’s case forward. The panel discussion seemed all the more relevant this week after funding news from Zamna and product development from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) built further momentum for blockchain utilisation in aviation.
One of the more memorable moments across the three days was a question posed on the opening ancillary panel – ‘should we continue to call ancillaries, ancillaries?’ Tunnacliffe and Strataconnex’s Marc Rosenberg had differing opinions for and against the label ‘ancillaries’ with Tunnacliffe’s using the example of Amazon’s addition of new revenue streams after its initial book business never being called ancillaries as one aviation should follow.
Perhaps the meatiest track during the three-day event was loyalty, which included discussions on the future of aviation digital commerce, mobile payments and even student loans(!). Yet the consistent theme across loyalty was to be the importance of the user experience, something that continues to be the number one differentiator when it comes to generating and maintaining loyalty for the world’s leading airlines.
After three days of highly interesting discussions and many valuable meetings where Upgrade Pack continues to build interest and anticipation of our impending launch, Mega 2019 proved a must-attend event, and one I’m already looking forward to attending in 2020.