The travel industry has come to embrace the value technology brings in keeping a connection with frequent travelers. We’ve seen YouTube videos from airlines, Facebook posts from trains, and bus companies using apps to make booking the next trip easier.
But most of these efforts focus on engaging customers before or after the act of travel. Miami International Airport and HCP/Aboard Publishing takes a cutting-edge approach to engaging travelers while they are en route. Erin Zilis, President and Publisher of HCP / Aboard Publishing, related in a phone interview that Miami International Airport (MIA) recognized the opportunity to reach a captive audience while they were in the airport. “Because it’s such an international airport,” said Zilis, “there could be people traveling internationally with an eight-hour wait. Locally, the average time someone arrives at the airport before a flight is two hours. Traffic flows really quickly through security in Miami, which means people have a lot of downtime.” Zilis identified this as the moment to entertain passengers.
Deciding Digital over Print
Many of us are familiar with the in-flight magazine: it is conveniently placed in the back pocket of the seat in front of you, ready for those dead times when wifi isn’t available, your device is stowed away, and you don’t really want to talk to the person next to you. Miami International Airport originally wanted to replicate that idea while passengers were in the airport waiting for their flight. It was the same captive audience, but now they had the freedom to explore the airport’s art gallery, unique features, and location in Miami. When they first approached HCP/Aboard Publishing, the intent was to make a print magazine for travelers using the airport.
Zilis and her team saw it another way: because their target audience was airport visitors, there was a lot of risk involved in doing a print publication. “There’s a lot of cost to print magazines, and they don’t always get taken or they get tossed,” relayed Zilis. Her team questioned if people juggling luggage would even think to pick up a copy of the magazine. This audience is mobile within the airport, has easy internet access, and is likely to be looking at a screen somewhere, be it a phone, tablet, laptop, or one of the airport TV screens. Based on the airport’s goals for the magazine, and based on the state of travel today, HCP/Aboard Publishing recommended that their client pursue a digital edition, rather than print.
Outstanding Digital Design
Having made the recommendation for digital, HCP/Aboard Publishing knew they needed to get the content on every device, and they needed to do it in a big way. The digital design needed to achieve MIA’s two primary goals: to educate passengers about the airport and surrounding area, and to encourage travelers to return to Miami. “So if they’re local, they’re learning about their hometown,” said Zilis. “If they’re on a layover, they might want to come back.”
Designing a magazine that could lift up the unique features of the airport and Miami in a purely digital format proved to be the biggest challenge of the project, according to Zilis. Typically their company would design for print and then provide a conversion into a digital replica of the print version. But in this case, they envisioned something far and beyond anything they’ve done before.
They started by recognizing the opportunity that existed in getting beautiful content on all devices. They chose fonts and graphic sizes that would present the magazine in the best manner, regardless of screen size. They also gave considerable thought to the functionality of the magazine, recognizing that the digital edition needed to be app-like as that was what the end-user expected from their phones and tablets. The magazine, MIA Connections, is a perfect hybrid between app functionality within a web product and maintaining the feel of a magazine. Zilis described the product this way: “What we ended up with made everyone happy. We have windows that pop up. Videos that play. Tabs with stories that jump to other stories to make it app-like. We really thought about it from the standpoint of designing for digital.”
Zilis also described the process as “an experiment” since their design team primarily started with a print edition. The final result, however, was well thought out and effective. View the slideshare presentation below to see 8 markers of good design found within the publication:
Zilis is quick to admit that while the design is outstanding, a lot of the success of MIA Connection’s launch was in the client’s willingness to promote the URL wherever possible. MIA posted signage with the URL all over the airport. The promotional video aired on the airport’s internal news feed, running on rotation in English and Spanish. The video also played on the monitors of gates that weren’t in active use. Wherever there were passengers, the magazine was being promoted. ”This kind of product needs a client that will promote
“This kind of product needs a client that will promote the URL, or one that is emailing it to a large list of people,” said Zilis. This sentiment is what opens the doors of possibility for the digital magazine in the travel industry. This type of product is scalable in other areas of the transportation industry, including resorts, car rental chains, train stations, and other airports. Zilis noted this product is especially suited for hotels and resorts with frequent customers and email lists of travel fans.
MIA Connections was profitable with its very first issue. The vision for the product was strong, but so was HCP/Aboard Publishing’s take on how to handle advertising.
HCP/Aboard Publishing’s digital edition is quarterly, but they are uploading ads into the product once a month. Because of this, each issue has the potential of charging for 3 months, or having different advertisers for each month. Zilis used the phrase “rousing success” when talking about how the advertising turned out for the first edition. After the magazine’s launch, another big company in town approached her to purchase ad space in the next issue. “It will be a very profitable product for us,” admitted Zilis.
To determine the rate card, Zilis looked to the airport’s numbers. Miami International Airport saw 40.9 million passengers in 2014, which averages to about 10 million potential readers per quarter. “That’s not really realistic,” reported Zilis, “but even if you reach 10% of those, you’re still reaching a million people.” With this information, HCP/Aboard Publishing decided to charge $9,500 for an ad. “We pretty much stuck to that. There wasn’t a lot of discounting off the rate card,” said Zilis.
In future issues, HCP/Aboard Publishing could consider additional revenue opportunities such as sponsorships and banners. However, the client – Miami International Airport – wants to use the digital edition to promote the airport and surrounding activities, so it is important any additional advertising doesn’t detract from that primary goal. This could potentially create a scarcity of ad space, increasing each space’s value, which is a strategy unique to this type of product.
Results and Lessons Learned
“‘We’re thrilled to partner with HCP/Aboard in this new endeavor, which not only highlights the best our community has to offer, but also showcases the ongoing improvements and customer service enhancements at MIA, such as our award-winning shops and restaurants, world-class art installations, and new intermodal connections,’ said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. Gonzalez.” (Source)
After initially deciding to produce a digital-only edition, the team at HCP/Aboard Publishing began to design their dream product. They included big ideas for functionality and features that would set them apart from anything that had been done before. “We have a very creative team,” said Zilis. “But [the lead designer] has always been a print designer. In the end we designed some things that truly weren’t feasible.” Unfortunately, they didn’t discover this until after they burned through two programmers that tried writing custom code for the digital edition.
Their belief in digital led the publishing team to over-commit to their client, MIA, promising a product they couldn’t quite deliver. They missed the initial deadline and had to cancel a launch event. Zilis reported she wished she had explained the project more to the client, and talked through what they wanted to do.
While scoping out a big digital project and making commitments for delivery, take a moment to scope out the project with someone in the industry that can give feedback on feasibility and best practices. For HCP/Aboard Publishing, that partnership was found with Nxtbook Media, whose core values include collaboration as well as a passion for meeting clients’ needs. This came through in Zilis’ joint effort with Nxtbook to match the digital edition’s vision. “It couldn’t have been more collaborative,” said Zilis. “To be honest, we went way beyond any average time taken by a client. We had 10 different conference calls with the team.” Zilis recalled sending the designed PDFs to her primary Nxtbook contact – Wayne – and together they walked through each page of the project. “He pointed out things we could do, things we couldn’t do. He specifically guided us into Web Windows; he was the one who recommended that,” said Zilis.
Once the vision was understood, Zilis was able to hand off the project to the Nxtbook team. “It was a big benefit to us,” she related. “It was nice to be able to send everything to Nxtbook and they did everything from there. We didn’t have to be involved in the minutia.” Nxtbook took the beautiful design HCP/Aboard Publishing created and made it come to life. As a result, both HCP/Aboard Publishing and MIA were happy with the final edition.
“It was easy once Nxtbook came along,” said Zilis. “To be honest, this would’ve been one of the most successful things I did in my career if we’d used Nxtbook from the start. The people at Nxtbook are fantastic.”
Traffic to the digital edition exceeded the publishing group’s expectations. While they had promoted the edition with press releases, and MIA promoted the edition in the airport, “we were all surprised and delighted about the traffic,” said Zilis. She reports getting “incredible feedback” about the edition and is looking forward to the custom reports the Nxtbook team is creating in the back-end metrics system for her. She will use the custom reports to demonstrate the edition’s success back to the client.
The final product, MIA Connections, is a beautifully designed representation of the benefits the travel industry can find in using digital technology to reach frequent travelers. There is a unique opportunity for the travel industry in finding a captive audience in various periods of travel – waiting for a plane, relaxing in a hotel room, touring on a train – and to encourage them to explore the area more. Learn from HCP/Aboard Publishing and start connecting with travelers in a cutting-edge and profitable way.