Innovation Lab at San Diego Int’l Tests Potential Parking Solutions

Innovation Lab at San Diego Int’l Tests Potential Parking Solutions
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

In search of answers to common parking challenges, San Diego International Airport (SAN) is fostering the development of several prospective solutions in its own in-house accelerator lab. Concepts in the works range from a cloud-based valet services app to an online booking platform that allows parkers to rent out their vehicles while they are traveling. 

The ideas are being developed in SAN’s aptly named Airport Innovation Lab, a program designed to reduce barriers for innovators trying to break into the airport industry. To support the project, SAN converted 3,500 square feet of its former Commuter Terminal into a space where developers can test their products and services in an airport environment without passengers or security concerns to work around. The functional mini-terminal even includes ticket counters and a baggage claim carousel.  

“The first solutions the lab focused on were airport parking and easing the airport experience,” explains Gina Jacobs, SAN’s program manager for Innovation. 


Project: Improving Efficiency & Customer Service of Parking Operations

Location: San Diego Int’l Airport

Strategy: Develop & test new solutions from outside vendors in onsite accelerator lab

Venue: SAN Airport Innovation Laboratory

Size: 3,500 sq. ft.

Inaugural Session: April 2018 call for innovators; participants selected in Aug. 2018 

Program Duration: 16 weeks 

Ideas Tested: Online parking reservation system that allows parkers to rent out their cars while they are away (TravelCar); cloud-based valet services app (Vark); rental car valet services (FreedomPark); parking booking system (Park Connect); baggage pick-up, storage & delivery service (Baggage Nanny)

Outcome: Contract negotiations ongoing with all 5 companies

Of Note: SAN converted part of former Commuter Terminal into testing area for companies developing new products & services; airport requests proposals for specific focus areas (parking, children’s entertainment, etc.) & general customer enhancements; successful ideas will be shared with other airports 

Call for Participants 

After issuing a request for applicants in April 2018, the airport selected five companies to test seven solutions in its maiden 16-week Airport Innovation Lab program in August 2018. Ultimately, six concepts moved forward for contract negotiations—five related to parking, and one regarding baggage services. The common goal was to help solve problems or issues faced by airports.

While parking solutions fall outside the parameters of the lab’s simulated terminal, its conceptual testing format proved highly relevant for the companies developing their ideas. In addition to potentially being deployed at SAN, successful innovations tested in the program could also be rolled out to other airports and businesses outside the industry, such as shopping malls, convention centers and ground transportation hubs.

With more than 24 million passengers last year, SAN ranks among the top 30 busiest U.S. airports and has a reputation for being on the forefront of airport innovation. 

Inaugural Innovator

TravelCar was one of the five companies selected to participate in the first round of the innovation program. 

Currently available in 60 countries, the TravelCar booking platform allows users to compare parking options by providing information about rates, reviews, locations and available services. The new twist the company tested briefly at SAN is a car-sharing platform. 

“TravelCar offered both parking reservations and optional car sharing, allowing parkers to rent out their cars and earn money while they are traveling,” says Jacobs. “Their solution was in line with the focus area of that 16-week program.” 

Samuel Saint-Jean, head of U.S. and Canadian Network Development for TravelCar, says the company was pleased to field test the idea in a live, North American airport environment.

“The lab allows innovative companies like us to test our products and solutions directly to their customers,” Saint-Jean explains. “It provided us with a live testing environment to prove our concept and also give the airport a firsthand experience to see what we do and what we can bring to the table.” 

Using TravelCar’s platform, SAN patrons can search, compare and book airport parking online.

“They have the ability to find the parking that best suits their need,” Saint-Jean says, noting that patrons can prepay to ensure a parking spot is available when they arrive. “In the near future, we are hoping to develop specific products and options to enhance the SAN customers’ experience even more.”

In the meantime, SAN and other airports can benefit from TravelCar’s “Travel Agent Program,” a platform that allows travel agents to book airport parking for clients. Airports also benefit from the company’s multiple global partnerships with airlines, online travel agencies, hotels and other businesses that direct their customers to the TravelCar platform to book airport parking. 

 “The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority was seeking innovative solutions that would add value to the parking customer experience and/or increase the operational efficiency of parking,” Saint-Jean relates. “With the rise in ride-sharing, we believe it’s important that airports such as San Diego better understand the necessity of providing multiple access to their parking inventory as well as finding additional ways to promote their parking.” 

Successful Outcomes

Feedback and reviews from TravelCar’s limited field tests at SAN were favorable, and the parking aggregator was ultimately awarded the opportunity to enter into an agreement with the airport. 

Similar success stories also unfolded for the lab’s four other inaugural participants: Vark, a cloud-based valet parking services app; FreedomPark, a rental car valet service; Park Connect, a parking booking system; and Baggage Nanny, a baggage pick-up, storage and delivery service. 

In July, SAN was negotiating contracts with all five companies.

Much like the products and services it helps develop, the lab’s mission will continue to evolve. The airport plans to solicit ideas for 16-week development programs twice yearly. As with the first session, subsequent rounds will solicit ideas for general customer experience enhancements as well as targeted solutions to specific issues and challenges. While the first session sought proposals about parking, interactive children’s entertainment options is the focus area for the second round. 

For both categories of entries, the lab seeks ideas that will increase revenue, enhance operational efficiency, decrease costs and/or improve the passenger experience. 

“At the beginning of the program we select solutions that are a good fit for the industry, and at the end select solutions that are a good fit for SAN,” adds Jacobs. “Our goal in the near future is to identify third-horizon concepts that will address gaps identified by our customer experience design. We are constantly iterating our program and looking for new and exciting ways to enhance the customer experience at SAN.”


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