RIMOWA has been manufacturing suitcases since 1898. Now, with their Electronic Tag, the global market leaders in high-quality luggage have digitalized baggage handling. Sven Lepschy, the Vice President responsible for this development, explains how the system works.
Mr. Lepschy, why, after more than 100 years of success in the suitcase business, is RIMOWA now developing digital travel products?
The future of the entire travel industry is digital: People are already booking trips through travel-agency apps and are checking in for flights from their own homes. In the future, airports will be using biometric facial recognition and fingerprints to check in passengers. Luggage is still being labeled with paper tags, as airlines have yet to go all the way and make everything digital. But this is actually all the more important, as in 15 years, the number of air travelers will have doubled. As a result, airports will have to deal with far more processes, often with much the same infrastructure as they have today. With the Electronic Tag, the processing time for each passenger is reduced from minutes to seconds, as travelers check in their luggage themselves from the comfort of their own homes. We developed our product after seeing this gap in the system.
The future of the entire travel industry is digital.
In your opinion, does digital transformation also pose risks to your company? You are, after all, entering unknown territory.
We’ve been working with a number of strong partners from the very beginning of the project, and with their support, we’ve developed the RIMOWA Electronic Tag as pioneers in our industry. After all, we have to guarantee incredibly secure standards to ensure that only the passengers themselves have access to their suitcases. That’s one reason why we’ve been working across several sectors with T-Systems as a consultant, system developer, and provider, as well as with the aircraft manufacturer Airbus. E INK®, the global leader in electronic paper display technology, and e-reader experts Netronix® were also involved in the development of the product. We therefore don’t see any risks for us as a company.
How does the Electronic Tag work? What can the product do?
is a fully integrated digital luggage solution. We have developed a smart suitcase that travelers can check in with their smartphones at home or in their hotel. An electronic tag then appears on a display on the suitcase, replacing the paper tag that is normally used. At the airport, special check-in stations allow travelers to drop off their suitcases in a matter of seconds – eliminating the long waiting times often experienced at standard check-in desks. We already have more than 18,000 registered customers on our RIMOWA app. RIMOWA Electronic Tag
How does the system benefit passengers?
More than anything else, it saves passengers time and can take the stress out of traveling. They no longer have to be at the airport hours before departure. Instead, they can use their smartphones to check in their luggage with the tap of a finger. Then, all they have to do is place their suitcase on the conveyor belt at one of the special drop-off stations. Furthermore, the Electronic Tag makes it almost impossible for cases to be loaded onto the wrong aircraft, as it does away with paper tags, which can sometimes be ripped off.
How do airlines profit from working with you?
They save money in several areas: They use less paper, as conventional luggage labels are no longer needed. And they don’t need as many check-in staff, as the passengers take care of the check-in process themselves. What’s more, by focusing their advertising on how much time passengers save with the Electronic Tag, airlines can win new customers – particularly in the business-class and first-class segments.
Which airlines are you working with?
Lufthansa was the first airline to understand the benefits of the Electronic Tag, and the system has been available to its passengers since last year. We have also been working with the Asian airline EVA Air since the beginning of December 2016. The Electronic Tag is currently being tested by Condor, Thomas Cook, and United Airlines.
Do airports need to install new equipment to use the system?
No. The digital label that appears on the suitcase display is exactly the same size as today’s paper tag. It also looks exactly the same, and includes the green EU stripe required by customs for all flights departing from European airports. The transition from analog to digital is therefore very simple. It should also be noted that the European Commission has just ended its “Home-Printed Bag Tags” pilot project. This gave travelers the option of printing out their luggage labels and attaching them to their cases at home before their flights. This is now no longer possible. The RIMOWA Electronic Tag is, however, not affected by the European Commission’s decision and continues to fulfill the necessary requirements for travel.
Data protection is often mentioned in the same breath as digitalization. How do you guarantee that no third parties can gain access to your customers’ travel data?
Security was an incredibly important topic in the development of this innovative product. The RIMOWA Electronic Tag system uses end-to-end encryption. The transfer of data can only take place between authenticated partner airlines and authenticated suitcases, allowing the highest levels of security for all parties.
Security was an incredibly important topic in the development of this innovative product.
This all sounds like a real revolution in the industry. How long do you think it will take before RIMOWA only manufactures smart suitcases?
We are currently in the process of integrating the system in all of our suitcase sizes except for the Salsa Air and Classic Flight lines. We will, however, produce product versions for customers who want a case without the Electronic Tag.
Do you have any further ideas for digitalizing the travel industry?
We currently have no plans to bring other products into the market. However, we are continuously working with the Research & Development team on the improvement and complementation of the RIMOWA Electronic Tag. So things will remain exciting.