Daytona Beach Int'l Hits Mother Lode When Mining Zip Code Data

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

Commercial airports certainly know where their travelers are going; but many don't know where they are coming from. Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB) in Florida has been tracking such information for about six years, and officials enjoy the rewards that come with being in the know: more targeted advertising campaigns and stronger appeals for additional airline service. 

Steve Cooke, director of business development at DAB, was inspired to define the airport's catchment area more precisely after the Volusia County manager offhandedly asked him where most of the airport's passengers live. "That question got me thinking," Cooke reflects. 

It also prompted him to consider the various shortcomings of the Department of Transportation (DOT) data the airport used to rely on. "It's at least six months old and drawn from the 10% sample airlines are required to report," he explains. The DOT data simply duplicates information the airport already knows from ticket sale information, Cooke elaborates. "You can extrapolate from these data [to determine daily passenger volume] from a particular city and then try to determine how that changes over time. But it doesn't really tell you where these passengers are from."


Project: Catchment Area Research
Location: Daytona Beach (FL) Int'l Airport
Timeline: 2009 - present
Strategy: Touchscreen kiosk near TSA checkpoint collects zip code data from passengers; airport receives summaries & analysis of data via monthly reports 
Software: GetZip
Software Developer: Adastra Technologies
Passenger Response Rate: 10% - 20%
Key Benefit: Airport uses data to tailor advertising campaigns & as background for air service development strategies 

Cooke recognized that knowing travelers' zip codes would help tremendously; but he didn't know how to capture them. Enter Dave Byers, Ph.D., president of Quadrex Aviation. Quadrex specializes in facility development, financial analysis and strategic planning for airports, but Byers also dabbles in software development and is a partner in Adastra Technologies, a software development company. When Cooke told Byers about DAB's desire to know where its passengers come from, Byers suggested using a touchscreen kiosk that would ask travelers a single question: What is your zip code?

Byers subsequently developed a software program that obtains and analyzes zip code information. DAB, in turn, built a touchscreen kiosk and placed it near the entry of its TSA security checkpoints for maximum exposure with passengers. By running the prototype software, DAB essentially became Adastra's beta site. 

"The system is totally passive and anonymous," Cooke explains. "We have signage, but the traveler decides whether he or she wishes to enter the information." Ultimately, 10% to 20% of DAB's departing travelers do choose to share their zip code with the airport, he reports. 

"It's a very reliable data source that reinforces itself continuously and is not a one-shot photo in time, which is the case with most survey methods," relates Cooke. "I can compare and contrast markets on almost a real-time basis, then compare that information with other times of the year. We can see where our growth opportunities are as well as see where they are receding."

Data Volume Drives Value

The system, which was eventually named GetZip, is now in its third generation; and DAB has been running it for six years. Byers performs the data analysis and provides the airport with tabular reports and heat maps that indicate concentrations of travelers by zip code locations. 

Given the volume of passengers that provide their zip codes - approximately 40,000 per year - Byers is confident about the value of the airport's data. "The information is ironclad from a statistical perspective," he explains. "It eliminates randomness."

The strength of the data also increases exponentially over time, he adds. 

Byers characterizes GetZip software as largely "bulletproof" and notes that it has required little attention from DAB personnel. The airport set up the kiosk, let the program run and learned valuable demographic information about its passenger base, he summarizes.

DAB officials have found the report summaries to be interesting and useful. "We couldn't get that information from other data," says Cooke. "Now I can say with certainty that Ormond Beach, which is north of Daytona, is our strongest generator of traffic. I can tell you Port Orange, which is to our south, is second; Daytona Beach third and Palm Coast four."

The airport uses this information to improve its local advertising efforts by tailoring messages to specific geographic locales and directing advertising dollars to areas that are likely to generate the most traffic. "You can't do that as well with DOT data," Cooke explains.

Byers positions the automated system as a cost-effective way for an airport to identify and define its catchment area - especially when compared to hiring a consultant to gather and analyze similar data. The software also constantly validates its findings, he adds.

Show & Tell

DAB's data collection efforts have really paid off regarding air service development. In February 2016, JetBlue Airlines will begin offering direct service between DAB and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Although the new service agreement was solidified after business and political leaders offered JetBlue a $2.3 million incentive package, Cooke used zip code data about the volume of New Yorkers traveling to Daytona during earlier discussions with JetBlue officials.

"We worked for years trying to attract JetBlue here," he recalls. "(The zip code data) was an important part of our marketing efforts." By subdividing its traffic data, DAB was able to demonstrate that traffic at the Florida airport doesn't drop in summer as dramatically as many carriers assume. "While seasonality is a factor, it's not a huge factor," says Cooke. "We can use our zip code data to show that."  

Even though carriers have their own sources of market data, Cooke considers it important to present the airport's zip code information as well. "We have to be proactive in identifying opportunities for air service," he explains, noting that DAB is a non-hub facility with 630,000 annual passengers a year, while Orlando International, which serves 37 million passengers a year, is only about one hour away by car. 

"If our data indicate a viable market an airline should consider serving, we share that information with them. But the opportunities must be viable," Cooke emphasizes. "You never want to present an airline with an air service opportunity that isn't viable, because you'd lose all credibility. The zip code data gives us information we can stand behind when presenting our case."

Improving the System

For the first five years, DAB only gathered zip code information. With just six touches on the screen - five for the individual zip code digits and one to enter the data - the airport captured where travelers were from, complete with individual time and date stamps. 

Then, Byers reflected that the sixth "enter touch" was a wasted effort. Now, the kiosk asks one additional question, and a passenger's answer acts as the data entry touch. The airport provides a list of about 10 questions, and the program cycles through them systematically, doling out different questions to subsequent passengers.

Questions include:

Why are you traveling today? 

(1) Personal

(2) Business

(3) N/A


Did you use airport parking today? 

(1) Yes (Long-term) 

(2) Yes (Short-term)

(3) No

Airport personnel can tweak the list of questions depending on what they want to know. During the Daytona 500 race, for instance, the airport asked passengers if they had flown in for the race. Although results confirmed that most fans still drive to the annual NASCAR event, the airport learned that more people fly into DAB to attend the race than previously assumed. 

"We've also learned that we have more business travelers using the airport than we thought," reports Cooks. "We're constantly trying to think of new questions to ask. It helps us define our market. We can share information with airlines to help them with their decision-making process."

The airport may also change the signage it uses to ask passengers to enter their zip codes and have documents ready for TSA agents. "We might use a race car driver or lifeguard to present the information," says Cooke, noting that a more lighthearted approach could help reduce the stress some travelers feel while waiting to move through security checkpoints. 

In addition, the airport is considering installing a printer that would reward each traveler using the kiosk with a coupon. Passengers would be able to redeem coupons post-Security for, say, a free bottle of water as a small token of thanks. 

What's Next?

After essentially six years of testing at DAB, Byers is currently in the process of offering zip code collection systems to the wider U.S. airport market. Adastra plans to lease touchscreen monitors loaded with GetZip software via three-, six- and 12-month plans. Rates, which are not yet available, will include monthly passenger traffic reports.

"Steve (Cooke) has been our best salesperson thus far," says Byers. "Most everyone who sees the program in action has been impressed and seen its utility. We can provide graphics, pie charts, heat maps. If someone calls and says, 'Give us everything you have on Chicago,' we can provide that."

Ancillary advertising or public service announcements on other areas of the screens are also a possibility. "The program can be customized to fit the informational needs of any airport," says Byers. 


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