In December 2020, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) published its Global Guidelines for Safe & Seamless Traveller Journey (SSTJ). The document is essential reading on the current state of seamless travel initiatives, and, more importantly, on why such efforts are crucial for the recovery of the travel and tourism industry post-pandemic.
The guidelines define seamless travel as “a journey during which the traveler no longer needs to present travel-related documents (e.g. boarding passes) or identification documents (e.g. passport) multiple times to a variety of stakeholders at different checkpoints in their journey.” The near-term vision is a world where passengers enroll their passport and identity data in a way that’s remote and touchless (e.g., on their own smartphones before leaving home) and then proceed, without stopping, through multiple checkpoints in the travel continuum using only their face to identify themselves.
In the context of air travel these checkpoints could include booking, check-in, security, boarding, border control, baggage check, car rental and hotel check-in. Imagine how much more pleasant and efficient the travel experience might be if you could navigate each of these stages by simply showing your face to establish your identity.
But the Safe and Seamless Traveler Journey is not only about an improved customer experience. The WTTC added the word Safe to its Seamless Traveller Journey initiative in 2020 in reaction to the shocking impact of COVID-19. According to WTTC’s Economic Impact Report 2021, in 2019, the travel & tourism industry accounted for 10.4% of the global economy; in 2020, this collapsed to only 5.5%. That collapse represents a loss of 62 million jobs. That’s the equivalent of the entire populations of England and Scotland being made redundant in the same year. If you prefer a North American example, it’s the equivalent of all the residents of California and Florida combined.
It’s clear that travel and tourism has a significant hill to climb as we emerge from the pandemic. The success of that effort depends in part on the willingness of the travelling public to get moving again. Which is why it’s essential to offer remote and touchless services. Remote in the sense that passengers can make all their travel arrangements from the comfort and safety of their own homes, avoiding large crowds and queues. Touchless in the sense that there is no need to interact with common equipment, such as kiosks, or hand over physical documents to officials. The good news is that the technologies to enable all of this already exist.
Thanks to game-changing improvements in facial recognition technology, we can now allow travelers to register their face and passport information remotely, before leaving home, at a level of security that meets the requirements of both travel providers and border agencies. Previously, a trained border officer could match a person to a passport more accurately than most facial matching algorithms; today, that situation is reversed.
Digital Travel Credential (DTC) standards are another game-changer that brings seamless travel a step closer. In late 2020, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the UN agency that sets standards for aviation, including passports – published the long-awaited DTC standard, a credential derived from a passport that can be stored on the holder’s smartphone. Crucially, the derivation of passport data in a digital format allows it to be transmitted – at the holder’s discretion – to multiple players in the travel continuum, and stores it securely for future use.
There are other technological advances that have not been widely applied to the travel industry, yet could also contribute in significant ways. These include automated risk engines that can assess a passenger against immigration policy, for example, allowing border agencies to stream arriving passengers. Additionally, advancements in facial image capture have enabled the creation of biometric lanes or corridors in which cameras can capture an image sufficient to match against pre-enrolled data when passengers are walking (or even running) through a checkpoint, without needing to stop.
So, the building blocks of seamless travel, as envisioned by WTTC, are already available. What’s now needed as we emerge from the pandemic is a global effort to make seamless travel a reality, both to improve the passenger experience and to fuel the return of the travel industry.
We can achieve this by starting pilot implementations now, linking travel service providers with immigration agencies to create a production ready, end-to-end, biometrically-enabled seamless path. The current lower volume of travelers provides an opportunity for feedback and refinement, encouraging larger volumes of travelers to return and feel safe, with improved customer experiences.
It’s time to board the seamless train…or plane…or car, truck, or ship. Let’s go!
To learn more about how to enable safe & seamless traveler experiences, visit WorldReach.com.