Canadian Airports Missing The Boat On Free WiFi

August 17th, 2010 by Asif Leave a reply »

By now you all know that I’m a big supporter of Free WiFi.  I believe it should be everywhere – coffee shops, restaurant chains, hotels, stadiums and of course in our airports.

The problem, has always been in trying to get the big brands and media buyers to embrace the notion of sponsored WiFi.

Well, it seems that it’s finally taking shape.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport started offering free web access to travelers wherever they are in the airport on August 1st.  The announcement follows on other recent changes by Edmonton, Ottawa, and Calgary all in the last six months.

Pearson is on a six-month sponsorship agreement with Roger’s, said Sergio Pulla, Manager, Product Strategy Marketing and Commercial Development at the GTAA

He would not disclose the amount of the contract, but did say that the infrastructure is still provided by Boingo, and that the airport is paying Boingo a fixed monthly fee for management of the equipment and customer service.

For their part Roger’s gets exposure on the login page as well as in-terminal communications including signage, floor stickers, and logo-placement in the Flight Information Display system.

The real missed opportunity for Roger’s and other potential sponsors here is the lack of any tie-in to location-based services.  WiFi is inherently a location-based service.

Where are the coupons, offers and discounts for logging onto the network?  With a whole slew of retailers and food service providers in the airport, the GTAA and others’ are missing the boat on revenue sharing by partnering with companies like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Sponsors care about metrics and the only real way to drive the numbers, and ultimately more sponsorship is through incentive. There were about five-million paid WiFi users at the airport in 2009, among 30.4-million passengers.

Free by itself is not enough, especially when a large percentage of business travelers already have company-paid data plans for their Blackberry and iPhones.

Recent global airport studies have pegged mobile WiFi usage at almost 48% vs. laptop connections.

As our airports and restaurant chains begin to seek sponsors to pay for free WiFi networks, perhaps they should be thinking bigger.  Consumers like free, but consumers really want relevant content and offers – see Starbucks recent free WiFi and Digital Content Network announcement.

In a conversation with Federica Nazanni – GM for Windsor International Airport, I learned that they are still on the old paid WiFi system with Boingo.  The problem as Federica put it “is we want to go free, but as a feeder airport to Toronto, we aren’t able to attract the national sponsors like them.”

She also agrees that success for them will come from increasing the value of the sponsorship package through location-based ties-ins to retailers and targeted signage opportunities.

Sponsorship is definitely the way to go, but real success will come through partnership with media companies, publishers, retailers and others.


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