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Amadeus IT Group’s Sarah Samuel considers how technology will help Tokyo’s airports cope with demand during the 2020 Olympic Games.

The 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo represents a significant opportunity for the city and for Japan.

The eyes of the world will turn to Tokyo as athletes from across the globe compete for gold while the potential for Japan to showcase their most modern and complex metropolis is huge.

Done right, the Olympics could result in new and repeat visitors returning to the country for years to come, as well as greater prominence and recognition on the world stage.

For airports, the Olympics also represents a once in a lifetime passenger surge, as hundreds of thousands of officials, athletes, VIPs, venue operators, and, of course, spectators descend upon the country.

Larger and fuller aircraft will arrive with more passengers for processing. Airlines will increase the frequency of flights to meet demand, and airlines which traditionally do not fly to Japan may temporarily offer ad-hoc flights there for the length of the Olympics.

This means more aircraft for stands, refuelling, and baggage processing. VIPs and athletes will also put additional strain on security as they are moved through terminals.

Managing this inundation of travellers will be a substantial challenge. Airports will face passenger numbers that they may not see again prior to another decade of growth; almost all arriving and departing within the space of a month, as attendees at the games move in and out of Japan.

Using off airport check-in to meet demand

A natural and steady rise in passenger numbers can be met incrementally with investment in additional infrastructure and systems. However, a brief, yet unparalleled spike in traffic, like the one which will accompany the Olympic Games, requires a different approach.

Permanent infrastructure cannot be developed to meet a temporary influx, which may not be repeated in terms of passenger numbers for ten years to come. Therefore, meeting the challenge of the Olympic Games requires airport operators to think beyond fixed infrastructure.

Airports must think outside of the box and outside of the airport to meet the demand with new and innovative solutions.

Off airport check-in is one such solution. Currently being trialled in Australia in partnership with Virgin Australia, Off Airport Check-In Solutions (OACIS) allows passengers to perform check-in and bag drop securely, outside of the airport.

This is achieved via ‘pop-up’ check-in desks and bag drops, which can be placed at downtown hotels, at conference venues, cruise ship terminals or sporting events.

Off airport check-in is not entirely new, Hong Kong International Airport has offered downtown check-in at select MTR stations, which connect to the Airport Express, for some years now. However, where OACIS differs is in flexibility and portability.

Using Amadeus cloud technology, OACIS requires very little equipment to operate. All that is needed is a computer terminal, printer, scanner, and baggage processing staff to move bags from the pop-up location to the airport. All communications are handled either via a WiFi or 3G/4G connection.

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Why WE must think beyond the airport

No matter how durable on-site airport solutions may be, they still feature the limitations of being contained at the airport.

For example, Auckland Airport’s recent investment in mobile check-in kiosks has allowed the airport to roll out additional kiosks based on demand.

During passenger surges, new kiosks can quickly and easily be deployed to meet the influx of passengers, which can then be removed when the surge is cleared.

Singapore Changi Airport’s new Terminal 4 features significant investment in biometrics to streamline the airport experience, moving travellers through the terminal using biometric tokens. This helps to reduce processing times and results in greater efficiency.

However, the limitation of these systems is that travellers must still be at the airport to use them. Passengers must still arrive at the terminal, queue, drop their bags, and be processed there. It does not alleviate the issues associated with using the airport as the sole point of check-in and bag drop.

This is where services such as OACIS can assist. Like how online check-in removes the need for travellers to check-in at the airport, OACIS removes the need for both check-in and bag drop to be performed at the airport. This reduces pressure on airport systems by allowing processes to take place elsewhere.

Benefits for travellers and Tokyo

For many travellers, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will form fond, life-long memories. People from across the world will remember where they were in Tokyo when their home country, sports icon, or idol secured the gold or was beaten by a quarter of an inch at the finish line.

More moments such as this are enabled by removing the hassle of luggage. If a traveller can drop their baggage at an off airport check-in location at their hotel or a central location such as Shinjuku Station or the Tokyo Dome, then they are then free to explore and enjoy Tokyo for longer, prior to their flight.

Instead of manoeuvring their luggage through the busiest metropolitan area in the world or going straight to the airport to avoid the hassle, travellers can now spend more time in the city centre. There, they can shop, eat, or visit a sporting event, which they may not have otherwise had the capacity to visit.

This gives travellers a greater experience, increases tourist spend for the Japanese economy, and relieves stress on airports as travellers spend less time at the terminal and more time in the city.

The next step for airports

When speaking to Matt Lee, CEO of OACIS for this article he said: “Traditional solutions are still based on the premise that you must come to the airport to check-in and bag drop.

“The minute you sever ties with that traditional thinking, you can think, if you choose to do it (off airport check-in and bag drop), where do you do it? You then open up a whole new world.”

In the lead-up to the upcoming passenger surge of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, airports in Japan much re-evaluate their traditional systems, and look for new ways to manage the influx of travellers.

By thinking outside of the box and outside of the airport, airports in Japan can leverage innovative solutions such as off airport check-in and bag drop to meet the demands of travellers and offer the best possible Olympics experience.

About the author

Sarah Samuel is Amadeus IT Group’s head of airport IT for the Asia-Pacific region.


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