The management of social media activities by airports is an emerging issue, and existing empirical literature on the measurement of brand perception in the airport industry is lacking. Usually, the measurement of brand perception is carried out by surveys, which are costly and rapidly become outdated. This study employs a newly developed algorithm to infer brand perceptions by mining the social connections of airports. Twitter accounts of 118 airports in the world are analysed by considering three emerging attributes in the airport industry: environment, disability and luxury. The paper shows how it is possible to identify the current positions of airports in the perception of the customers.
Over the last two decades, the airline industry in many countries has moved from a regulated market into a liberalised and business-oriented market in which airports compete for passengers, freight and airlines. In most countries, airports are no longer only a necessary connecting point; instead, they are a source of economic development providing a gateway to cities, states, regions, countries and cultures. In 2014, the economic impact of the aviation industry (direct, indirect, induced and tourism catalytic) on the global gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded $2.7 trillion USD; none of this would be possible without airports (Airports Council International, 2017). Moreover, the deregulation of the air transport market has increased the level of competition among airports to attract passengers and airlines. In this new environment, airport management companies are pursuing strategies focalised to improve customer experience of air travel and tourism. The airport becomes one key element in the consumer process of travel planning, after the initial decision to make the journey. This process, named the travel ecosystem (see Fig. 1), is deeply permeated by digital technologies (World Economic Forum, 2017), given their capacity to attract, gather and communicate information to and from consumers. According to the World Economic Forum (2017), from 2016 to 2025, digitalization in aviation, travel and tourism is expected to generate, along with other effects, benefits valued at $700 billion USD for customers and a wider society through a reduced environmental footprint, improved safety and security, and cost and time savings for consumers. In particular, for customers, the personal impact is expected to be significant as travel becomes a seamless, frictionless, higherquality experience. This new environment has led airport managers to develop new strategies, such as differentiation with branding, to gain a competitive advantage. Competition in the airport industry assumes a complex form, exerting its main effects at three different levels (Graham, 2013): competition among groups of airports, competition among airports and competition inside airports. The second level is related to competition among airports belonging to the same catchment area. This frequently occurs in the major urban areas where there exists more than one airport. When the airports are operated as a group, the result of competition can be controversial. In fact, for airports belonging to the same catchment area, this has led to a mitigation of competition (Forsyth, 2006). However, the advantages that result from working as a group rely, on one hand, on the adoption of a coordinated development strategy, and on the other, on the reduction of costs through the sharing of resources and expertise and the positive effects due to the economies of scale. The latter level of competition concerns the wide range of airport services that can be provided by both the airport operator and an external company.