April 17, 2012 at 8:23 AM ET
Airports can be confusing places, especially large ones that travelers are experiencing for the first time, so knowing where to find that great cup of coffee or figuring out if there is a place near your departure gate to fit in a quick massage before boarding can often be a daunting task.
And that’s the logic behind Airport Chatter, a new website launched several weeks ago designed to take the hassle out of getting around airports.
The idea is the brain child of Mark Wagner and Izzy Kirsh, two 20-somethings working in the technology field and currently living in Toronto and Miami respectively.
“I’m a real aviation fan,” said Wagner. “I love travel and I love airports.” But every time he travels, he said, the same problems and challenges persist. “The more we talked, the more we saw the need to make air travel easier to navigate and to be more social,” Wagner said.
The average airport has three terminals, 18 airlines, 40 eateries, 30 shops, 25 services, three lounges, public transportation, taxis, limos, shuttles, long-term parking, short-term parking and an array of hotels nearby, according to Airport Chatter, which hopes to help travelers quickly locate what they are looking for and display where the venue is located.
The site currently features detailed profiles for some of the busiest airports in the United States and includes every eatery, shop, service and lounge at those airports — more than 6,000 venues in total at 53 airports — helping travelers learn about which restaurants there are after security is cleared or what the costs are for long-term parking.
The site also has a community platform where venues and services can be rated, reviewed and shared with fellow travelers.
The site is available to search at no cost, but to post reviews, users must either log in through Facebook or Twitter, or register with Airport Chatter directly. Reviews are monitored in real time, Wagner said.
Here's a recent one posted by Nephro31 about Cibo Express, a food venue at John F. Kennedy International Airport:
“Has Kosher food but very expensive and not fresh. Good to know though if your in rush.”
The venue also bears a 4.2 star rating, based on a possible five stars, which is an average of the ratings posted. Users can also give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to denote how useful the rating is, Wagner said.
Wagner said individual airports typically have much of the same information on their websites as Airport Chatter, but travelers typically have to visit more than one site and it takes time to sort through everything; other commercial sites are frequently not updated with any regularity. Airport Chatter aims to create one site that allows travelers to access detailed airport information all in one place, easily and quickly, he said.
“The goal is really turning Airport Chatter into a global airport platform for travelers,” Wagner said, that will include everything they need — before, during and when departing the airport.
Expansion plans include adding the larger airports of Latin America and Asia next. Eventually all international and domestic airports will be included, he said. In addition, he and colleagues plan to roll in more robust features in coming months, like social profiles and gaming mechanics, similar to Four Square offerings. And based on research that touts their success, he said, the site plans to eventually include rewards, both real and virtual.
Henry H. Harteveldt, co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group, a market research company, said there are a number of commercial sites currently offering services similar to what Airport Chatter provides.
“There is definitely no clear winner in this space yet,” he said. It’s early in the game, but Airport Chatter will need to create a site different enough to draw in more users, he said. “The challenge will be to make it so useful, people go to it first.”
And that won’t be easy, he said. “People don’t think about airports all that much” unless on the way to or already at them. Also critical to Airport Chatter's ultimate success will be to eventually offer the service on a smartphone or a tablet.
But even then it will be tough, he said. A recent study done by the Atmosphere Research Group found that few of the 5,058 adults surveyed even used airport apps. Of survey participants who owned smartphones, 63 percent had no airport app at all, and only eight percent of those surveyed had and regularly used them, he said.
And for the social media piece to be successful, the capability to easily find other travelers similar to the users will be very important.
“But the good news is, I think there is an opportunity for someone to come in to really help travelers,” Harteveldt said.
Wagner is quick to say Airport Chatter is still in its infancy, and would not say how much traffic it has received, though it is beginning to get some traction. Overall, he and colleagues have been pleased with the initial response, noting most users have searched the site, and less have posted reviews, which he expects will change as it takes hold.
“Obviously, the site still really needs tweaking,” Wagner said, noting that technological issues have been particularly challenging. “This is not it. It’s all about the future,” Wagner said, adding that he and co-workers are hard at work on version 2.0.
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