Airlines often talk about “meeting consumers where they are” to help drive sales. Digital sales channels are changing the way those interactions occur and for some carriers the pace of that change is dramatis. Ethiopian Airlines recently took a significant step on this front, opening up new digital payments options in two key markets. The move is part of the carrier’s push into a more modern digital passenger experience that covers the entire journey.
Not surprisingly, Ethiopian’s main push with the new services covers the Chinese market. In 2018 the carrier added Alipay as an option for passengers using its mobile app in the region. The carrier expanded the offerings last month to include WeChat Pay, ensuring coverage for more than 90% of the Chinese market. These integrations are managed through CellPoint Digital’s Velocity payment platform, a full merchant-side payment control environment built specifically for the travel industry.
Air travel within the Middle East, and especially between the Middle East and Africa, is also expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Ethiopian will target that growth through the integration of KNET payments, focused on the Kuwaiti market. Similar to Alipay or WeChat Pay, KNET brings the most popular local payment option into the company’s booking flow.
As we expand into new markets, we want to ensure the payment process on our mobile app is as seamless as possible for our passengers. Working with CellPoint Digital as our technology partner allows us to quickly add new payment methods to meet the needs of consumers in these regions. The introduction of WeChat Pay and KNET is the first of many new payment methods we plan to roll out, as we look to expand further into the Middle East, India and Europe.– Miretab Teklaye, Digital Director of Ethiopian Airlines
In addition to reducing payment friction for the consumers the new payment options help reduce fraud and open up more ancillary sales options.
Beyond payments, Ethiopian is improving its digital passenger experience by activating inflight wifi connectivity on its A350 fleet. The service went live last month, powered by the Inmarsat GX Aviation offering. The service is expected to expand to the carrier’s other long haul aircraft going forward, though a timeline for such is unclear.
We are glad to introduce inflight internet connectivity with the latest broadband satellite technology, Ka-band, offering our passengers seamless digital experience as they fly Ethiopian. The launch of the onboard wi-fi internet is part of our relentless efforts to further add to passengers’ comfort keeping pace with the technology of the day. As customer-centric airline, we will remain focused on continuous service excellence, taking advantage of emerging technologies and infrastructure.– Mr. Tewolde GebreMariam, Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines
Not all of Ethiopian’s efforts appear focused on innovation, however, Reports have the carrier considering an investment in the beleaguered South African Airways. Unless that stake comes with the ability to remove control from the South African government the challenges resulting from the investment are likely to outperform any potential returns. That said, the carrier has invested successfully in other African airlines, including ASKY hubbed in Lome, Togo and plans to help fund an operation in Ghana, expected to launch in the next six months.