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Unlike in hotels or cities, the popular tourist mantra to live like a local presents unique challenges for airlines.
On an Iberia flight from New York to Madrid, for example, the Spanish capital might be the final destination for some passengers, while the others are merely passing through the city on their way to a final destination. Local content about Madrid would obviously be less relevant to the passengers traveling beyond the city.
But some carriers, including Iberia, imagine the day they can tailor local content offerings for in-flight entertainment and more to each individual traveler. “The industry is still not at a point where we can customize the in-flight entertainment for every customer but I’m sure this will exist someday,” said Carolina Martinoli, a spokesperson for Iberia. “What we have to do instead right now is be comprehensive.”
Some airlines aggressively try baking their local roots into their brand while others aren’t as bold.
JetBlue is an example of an American carrier thinking local as the airline branded itself “New York’s hometown airline.” Its Terminal 5 at New York’s JFK Airport includes a range of local New York City restaurants meant to introduce JetBlue travelers to the local flavor.
In addition, the airline’s new Mint class features local cuisine from some of these restaurants.
“If you want to promote yourself as being from New York you have to be authentic and asking to be part of the in-flight experience if you’re not just means you want advertising,” said Jamie Perry, a spokesperson for JetBlue. “We also recently had a meeting about doing custom announcements for each flight about shows our travelers can see in NYC but we haven’t started anything like that just yet.”
Destination marketing organizations often help airlines figure out what to show their travelers about what’s local and area residents themselves can also pivotal players in the process.
“Tourism associations are very important partners and we’re always in contact with them in Spain but we connect with a lot of locals who look and talk like our travelers so that they feel like they’re watching someone in a video who they know,” said Martinoli of Iberia.
Iberia chooses local brand ambassadors it calls “Iberia Mayors” from its social media followers and features them on different social channels and YouTube. The ambassadors present their cities and their best-kept secrets and encourage others to share their local experiences too.
JetBlue follows a similar path with its SoFly social content site in that travelers can share tips and photos of local things to do in a destination. However, most of the tips and photos come from visitors.
Ronda, Iberia’s in-flight magazine, is where the carrier wants to showcase all it wants to say about traveling like a local in a particular place, Martinoli said. The magazine profiles destinations beyond Spain too: The most recent city the magazine highlights is Istanbul and that issue includes local tips and recommendations from people who have visited the city.
“The fact that we are a flag carrier doesn’t mean we only talk about Spain,” said Martinoli. “We have global customers who travel to many destinations outside of Spain and when we get ready to land they’re looking for airport information as well as city information and what they should do there.”
Below is an “Iberia Mayors” video in Spanish with English subtitles available: