Uber Tries Ads to Guide Airport Travelers as Rideshare Is Pushed Out

Though many airports have kicked Uber from terminal curbs to parking garages and car lots, the rideshare service has found a way to make sure travelers arriving at Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport can more easily find it.

In a partnership with Clear Channel Airports, Uber is branding directional signs so travelers can get from their arrival gates to baggage claim, and then to the designated pickup area on the third of the airport’s parking garage.

The first of its kind in North America, the partnership launched over the summer and is expected to go through October. In the deal, Uber paid for 22 printed signs and 32 digital screens, which are expected to reach 10,090,851 arriving passengers, at least 86% of all of Sea-Tac’s arrivals, according to Clear Channel.

Both Uber and Clear Channel declined to comment on how much the ad space was valued, but said it was “significant.”

While Sea-Tac previously had signage directing passengers to the rideshare pickup area, Uber is kicking it up a notch with arrows and walkways to give travelers an extra nudge. (Of course, Uber can’t stop travelers from getting to the lot and calling a Lyft instead.)

Lyft doesn’t currently have any direct advertising with Clear Channel airports.

“We want to work closely with the airports to ensure we minimize friction at these points for a seamless journey,” said Harsha Gavarna, a business developer at Uber. “It’s not just advertising; it’s a branding presence to help riders get to the pickup location.”

That rider experience is important. Although Uber declined to say how much airports contribute to its bottom line, beyond saying they are “important,” they generate a considerable amount of revenue for rideshare services.

Between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of U.S. business traveler spending on ridesharing and ride-hailing services grew by over 50%, from just 8% to a staggering 62%, according to a report released last year by LEK Consulting. The report also found that airport-related trips account for about 25% of a ridesharing brand’s revenue.

“From Uber’s perspective, we reach their target audience at the right time when they’re leaving, trying to get home or to their business meeting,” said Jon Sayer, senior vice president of Sales at Clear Channel Airports.

The ads also provide an educational opportunity as airport authorities manage the influx of traffic brought by rideshare services by pushing the companies out to lots and garages away from the terminals.

We’re trying to work in real time with the ridesharing companies like Uber and airport authorities to pivot, bob and weave to help people know where they need to go,” Sayer said.

When asked if Uber would be expanding to other airports, Gavarna said “absolutely,” pending analysis of its program at Sea-Tac. Uber will be sending customer feedback surveys to travelers leaving Sea-Tac, as well as monitoring the number of rides and revenue generated from the airport.

“I’d be disappointed if we can’t do something else with Uber at an additional airport, or extend it in Seattle in early 2020,” he said. “We’re identifying with Uber which airports make sense to do this, or try to do this in the future—I’m hoping [early next year] we’re along the path of having this up and running in another airport or two.”

Of course, with all the signage, riders should still make sure to wait until they’re ready to call an Uber. The call to action signs are closer to the baggage claim area, not the arrival gates.

“The key is to make sure the driver doesn’t wait,” Gavarna said. “It’s not efficient to have a lot of drivers waiting at the pick-up location.”

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