Canadian Airports introduce on-line car parking reservations with great success

By Chris Mckenty

Canadian airports, unlike most of their American counterparts, are operated by non-share, not-for-profit airport authorities and are mandated to operate as self-sustaining businesses. This gives them greater freedom to adopt new technology pricing and marketing strategies that help them reach their goals. This is especially the case in commercial areas like parking.

Canadian airports, unlike most of their American counterparts, are operated by non-share, not-for-profit airport authorities and are mandated to operate as self-sustaining businesses. This gives them greater freedom to adopt new technology pricing and marketing strategies that help them reach their goals. This is especially the case in commercial areas like parking.

In the past few years, this technology has included the ability to give their customers the option to book and pre-pay for their car parking online via the Canadian’s Airports website or mobile app.  You might be surprised to learn that last month alone (June 2014) nearly 10,000 fully prepaid parking bookings were made at just 3 of Canada’s airports generating an additional $750,000 of revenue for the airports. Edmonton Airport is predicted to grow its pre paid parking by 40% annually over 2015.

With this greater freedom the incentives and drivers for change can vary depending on the dynamics at each Airport,however common factors are apparent. These include:

  • Increasing competition from off airport car parks
  • Under budget achievement for car parking revenue
    Spare parking capacity or very limited capacityin the car parks
  • A desire to improve customer service

Another significant factor in the decision to adopt this new technology is the lack of specific information on who the passengers and Airport customers are. Airlines have long since had access to this data but for many reasons have been either unable or unwilling to share this detailed traveller data.  By offering an online reservation solution for their car parks, the Airports are now gathering very detailed and important data such as where their customers live, how far they travel to the airport, where they are travelling to and how far in advance they are booking their parking, which is also good indication of the type of traveller – leading to better market segmentation. An example of this is business travellers – who tend to book within a few days of departure and leisure travellers who book weeks or even a year ahead and are much more price sensitive.  A significant benefit of owning this data is the ability to ensure that the on-airport concession outlets meet the needs of the travellers that are using the airport. By engaging at an early stage in the relationship, for example through targeted marketing in confirmation, pre arrival and post departure emails, concessions can raise awareness and attract customers.

European airports have successfully increased the customer spend through online booking by €2 per passenger. Translate this to Canada and it would generate $25 million CAD a year in extra revenues.

Edmonton International Airport (EIA) led the adoption of online reservations in Canada in 2010 by building a new off airport car park owned by the airport.  The off airport operation, named JetSet, directly competes with the existing off airport operations with a national brand that is transferrable to other Canadian and potentially US Airports.  This approach gave Edmonton the opportunity to adopt many leading edge technologies across the whole operation, including online reservations. The online reservations were an immediate success for the Airport in generating a new revenue stream with parking revenue climbing faster than passenger footfall counts. The public wasted no time capitalizing on the opportunity to reserve parking spaces online, for both convenience and best value with now over 60% of JetSet passengers booking their parking in advance.

Vancouver Airport replicated the JetSet brand by launching a newly branded on airport car park with its online reservation solution in early 2013 following the Edmonton success. Edmonton Airport rolled out their on airport car parks also in early 2013. Ottawa Airport launched in early 2014 focusing on offering their Long Term Over height and Parkade car parks followed by Montreal later in the year with others such as Toronto Pearsons and Winnipeg due to introduce the online booking service shortly.

Launching an online reservation system can be a very testing period as to create the perfect customer experience the system must work like a flight reservation system, which offers the customer a complete end to end self managed solution with integration into payment gateways, third parties such as loyalty programs, call centres, airlines, corporate entities and automatic recognition by the car park barrier systems. This all must be achieved whilst delivering value and a great customer experience.

The majority of the Airports started off with a three month soft launch with limited availability to ensure that staff including the car parking team, accounts departments and marketing teams were well versed in the solution and are able to manage their customer experience, space allocations, reconcile their accounts and handle exceptions in the process. Following a soft launch period a full review is typically carried out, data is analysed, exceptions identified and documented and a full marketing launch is planned, which includes promotion on the websites, throughout the airports on walkways and advertising boards and on the pay on foot machines and car park buses.

Adding an online parking reservation system to your website or mobile application can appear a very simple task. However, important factors for Airports and parking operations worldwide to consider are; having an online reservation system that is mature, seamlessly integrated into the Airport’s website, barrier equipment etc, PCI Accredited, and continues to be evolved through input from a global community of experienced professionals in the Airport industry as it reduces risk and the need to commit to ongoing development of the solution to meet future requirements which will incur additional costs and increase risk.

Working with third parties to either incentivise your customers to either park initially, return time and time again, or strengthen your relationship with your airlines or corporate entities is equally if not as important than just putting a reservation system in place.  The Canadian Airports have embraced this, for example a number of the Airports allow their customers to earn loyalty points from their parking transactions with either the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA), Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) or Aeroplan. Their system dynamically authenticates the member’s details with the relevant loyalty program before recording the transaction and passing the transaction details on to the relevant program for the awarding of points.

Working with the Airlines when they have the ability to add parking products into their baskets with the flight ticket is the next step for the airports. Using interfaces with the reservations system such as web services or airline branded web sites allows the airlines to dynamically query the Airport parking reservation system using the flight information for it to return products and prices that meet the selection criteria. The relationship with the Airline can be that their customers are offered preferred rates, different products or that it tracks the transaction so that the Airline can earn commission on the transaction. Working, as a group the Canadian Airports are a more cohesive and stronger entity – using the same solution. This allows major airlines to offer products and prices in a single interface for all of the major on-airport car parks.

This relationship can be an important source of revenue for both the airline that can add value to the customer whilst earning commission on the parking transaction, but also for the Airport who can ensure that on-airport products are offered to this wide audience or, using the same solution, offer the customer additional services via their own website to book their flights for the Airline direct along with their destination hotel and car hire.

Edmonton Airport are now entering their fourth year of offering the service and have recently introduced customer registration functionality that enables their customers to store their vehicle and credit card information in an online account.  They have utilized the registration technology to create a rewards program called JetSet Rewards.  Through the registration, the program provides Reward customer’s exclusive discounts on parking as well as discounts on retail, food and beverage offerings. Registration also enables customers to print off receipts, view historical transactions and purchase parking even more quickly and easily by using their personal log-in via the Airports website or their mobile device. In terms of conversion if it easier for the customer to make a purchase then this will help drive repeat custom and improve conversation rates. Our statistics show that over 40% of newly registered customers return versus only 25% of new non-registered first time customers.

The customer registration has proved so successful that Edmonton is extending this to their wi-fi customers. They expect to have a database of 750,000 passengers within one year of launch.

As with other airports as they start to mature with their systems the requirements start to grow and generating increment revenue year on year becomes much harder.  This is being achieved by the implementation of Yield Management or revenue management. In simple terms revenue management is optimizing the revenue return for your car park spaces by selling the right amount of product at the right price across all car parks based on existing and anticipated demand. And, where possible, stimulating this demand through price incentives targeted at key market segments whilst minimizing the risk of revenue dilution in others such as roll up customers, at the same time as considering the capacity constraints of each car park.

What makes parking different to a flight or hotel room in terms of yield is that you are not able (except very rarely as to make it irrelevant) to directly influence which airport the customer selects, the stay dates or the duration of the parking. Parking is not a primary purchase so this is pre-determined.

What can be influenced:
  • Customers booking on airport (including park
    & ride etc) rather than off airport?
  • Customers driving to the airport and parking rather than travel by some other mode. (E.g. public transport, drop off pick up by
    family / friends, take a taxi etc)
  • Which car park customers choose to park in?
  • Which parking product customers select. (E.g.
    flexible higher price, low cost deal, valet etc)

Airlines and hotels have, for many years, recognised the importance of matching price to demand. It has become fundamental to their revenue strategies. And customers also recognise that flights are generally cheaper the further in advance you book and they be offered a choice of ticket – flexible tickets being more expensive. And so it is with parking that these same proven strategies are being adopted amongst the Canadian Airports automatically using their online reservation software.

With Canada set to become one of the world’s leading countries of pre-booked parking by the end of 2015, the contribution that online parking will make to the non-aeronautical revenues of Canadian airports could be $856 million. And some 21 million passengers will be known to the airport before they travel. They will receive a personalised welcome and enjoy the benefits of seamless travel arrangements from the moment they arrive at the airport. Now that is win-win!

Chris McKenty, Business Development Director, Chauntry Ltd

Notes for article:


  • Top 15 CDN airports have 107 million pax per year
  • Assumed average transaction of $40
  • Assumed 30% book

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