‘Big Data’ Comes to Airport Parking: FLL to Debut New Parking Guidance System
By Darrell Brantley
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) will soon debut the first camera-based parking guidance system (PGS) in a U.S. airport. Management says that the system, supplied by PGS innovator and business intelligence expert Park Assist, will be operational in late 2015. It will serve two parking facilities totaling approximately 7,500 parking spaces.
FLL’s camera-based PGS is designed to track occupancy of each parking space in real-time, directing an airport patron to the nearest available space quickly and conveniently. For drivers who cannot remember where they parked, the system also facilitates fast location of lost vehicles.
In addition, airport officials say, this second-generation guidance technology, based on license plate recognition (LPR) software, promises enhanced revenue production, better security and customer loyalty benefits.
Steven Grant, Owner of Aberdeen Management Group, a parking and transportation consultancy based in Washington, sees the decision as an industry trend.
“The airport industry in the U.S. is only beginning to fully embrace guidance systems on a large scale,” he says. “We are now seeing airports regularly looking to deploy a PGS solution either as part of a parking and revenue control system (PARCS) procurement or separately, but installed at the same time as the PARCS.
“It is a technology that airports are taking seriously for reasons including improving the overall customer airport experience as well as better understanding how customers use their parking facilities. Airports will use the data generated by these systems for marketing and revenue generation purposes,” Grant says.
Losing Customers, Missing Opportunities
Like many U.S. airports in recent years, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International has suffered from the double bind of slow growth and intense competition from off-airport parking operators. The latter have steadily siphoned away parking customers on the basis of both price and service. Airport revenues in 2014 were about 12% below their peak in 2008, according to FLL’s 2014 annual report.
“We were losing customers consistently, month over month, year over year, for a five-year period,” says CFO Doug Wolfe. “So we conducted a top-to-bottom review of our parking business. One issue that consistently came up was the stress over finding a parking space. We even had people reporting that they were missing flights because they couldn’t find a parking spot.”
Wolfe says only about 40% of the people who fly in and out of the FLL catchment area are parking at the airport or at an off-site competitor. “Some 60% of the passengers in the catchment area appeared to be drop-offs, or they took a taxi or limo, shared a ride, etc.,” Wolfe says. “If you look at that 60% as our potential parking market, it’s pretty darn big. As a result, our strategies aim to capture as much of that market as we can.”
A Cornerstone Solution: PGS
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is blending a number of initiatives into its market outreach; however, PGS will play a central role. Industry experts agree that the maturing of the PGS solution will provide multiple leverage points for this push.
“Most people think that guidance systems have only customer-service attributes,” Aberdeen’s Grant observes. “What excites me ... is their ability to interface or integrate with the airport’s PARCS solution, parking reservation systems, mobile apps, and Bluetooth Low-Energy solutions.”
Grant believes the real value in camera-based systems is their ability to generate customer profiles on a “granular” level. “This allows the airport to really mine patrons’ data to better understand their utilization and parking preferences. But beyond that, now you can track the customer into the airport itself to push individually-tailored offers, which might include discounted parking or incentives to shop at the airport.”
The Proof is Down Under ...
While first-gen guidance systems have already been deployed at several U.S. gateways, this video technology is new to the American airport market. However, camera-based systems have been in use at retail centers worldwide and non-US airports for nearly a decade.
For example, Canberra International Airport (CBR), serving the capital of Australia, was one of the early airport adopters of the camera-based system.
Richard Phillips, Manager of Aviation Projects at CBR, says the airplex completed a $480 million upgrade of the terminal facilities, which included replacing the old on-grade carparks with new multi-level parking structures and new on-grade carpark products.
“The 2,400 undercover spaces where the Park Assist camera-based guidance system is installed are considered our premium parking product,” he says. “Having a reliable guidance system there was our main objective.”
Phillips notes that CBR looked at all of the PGS technologies available.
“Our main concern with the ultrasonic and inductive technology was the number of units that needed to be installed and, hence, the sea of red and green lights,” he explains. “The beauty of the camera-based system is you have about a quarter of the sensors, so it is a lot less visually confronting to users. Plus, there are a lot fewer units to maintain than the other systems.” The LPR function of the camera-based system is “a very useful added bonus, too.”
The Value Proposition
Most parking facilities always have at least a few empty spaces. However, industry experts say customers perceive a facility as full when as many as 10% of the spaces are unoccupied.
PGS solutions enable owners to wring value out of that last 10%. But it’s not just about generating more revenue, says FLL’s Wolfe; it’s also about deferring expense. “A PGS will allow us to use our assets more efficiently and allay the need to invest in more parking structures or surface lots,” he says.
“The return-on-investment for a PGS is on ‘space value maximization,’” says Park Assist CEO Gary Neff. “Adding ‘up-charge’ services, such as creating ‘virtual’ premium parking areas, increases the value of those spaces.
“Meanwhile, a camera-based PGS can automatically perform time-consuming license plate inventories — which all airports must maintain — decreasing the per-space labor outlays for roving attendants. Also, having a facility-wide camera system can reduce the cost of claims and help deter violent crime.”
Minimizing the time drivers spend cruising and looking for parking also has a social value. It decreases pollution, reduces congestion, lessens a facility’s carbon footprint and contributes to sustainability objectives.
Aviation portals such as FLL are recognizing that what service experts call “customer lifetime value” applies to the airport industry. Capturing a customer is just the first step. Keeping that customer over time, and upselling additional products and services are the goals. Guidance systems are perceived as a linchpin in driving patron satisfaction that extends that “lifetime.”
The Park Assist Model M4 system at FLL offers “a whole host of customer-service benefits,” says FLL’s Wolfe. “Park Assist calls one, ‘Find My Car.’
“A concern that came up in our market research was that a lot of passengers, especially those coming home after a long time away, forget where they parked their car,” he says. “Instead of wandering through the garage or involving our staff in searching for their car, customers can input their license plate information into one of the Park Assist kiosks. The PGS system will tell the customer exactly where they parked and how to get there.”
“A camera-based PGS offers the customer the other half of parking guidance,” explains Park Assist’s Neff. “All guidance systems help a customer find an open space to park. Only camera-based systems can help a customer find their car in the parking garage when ready to leave. With parking often being the first and last impression of an airport visit, why not help them exit just as we helped them enter?
“Off-airports are growing in part due to their perceived convenience of faster entrance and exit. Guidance can help close the gap and ‘loyalize’ more customers.”
Other U.S. airports will be watching the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International rollout to see how a camera-based PGS might bring “Big Data” to airport marketing.
The Return on Investment achieved with a camera based PGS can help airport directors when seeking Board/Council approval of budgetary expenditure requests. So, not only are camera based PGS great for improving the customer experience with guidance wayfinding, Find Your Car, and security surveillance; the airport will lower costs with automatic license plate inventory while increasing revenue with space optimization, loyalty programs, and premium rate parking.
Darrell Brantley is Business Development Manager – Airports, North America for Park Assist. He has more than 40 years’ experience working in airport operations, parking, commercial ground transportation and transportation contracts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.