Building a Seamless Travel Experience in 2019

Dec. 24, 2018

As the Director of Industry Affairs of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), people often ask me how the travel sector is operationally going to keep up with passenger trends, consumer expectations, technological innovation and safety concerns – and they are right to query this.

Last month, IATA updated their projections for future aviation growth, estimating that the number of global air travelers will balloon from 4 billion a year now to 8.2 billion by 2037. Yet, of course, the number of airports and runways will not double within the same timeframe, nor would this be the preferred solution.

London Heathrow Airport provides a great case study here. During rush hours at Heathrow, a plane lands on average every 45 seconds, with the number of departing flights growing by 1.7 percent in a year, and the number of passengers by 2.6 percent, according to the Civil Aviation Authority. With six airport terminals and two runways currently in use, a potential third runway has been debated in government for 20 years, each debate more heated than the last.

As aviation technology advances in leaps and bounds – with prospects of non-stop 17-hour flights between the UK and Australia quickly materializing, and Artificial Intelligence now being used to make fleets more available by better managing maintenance cycles - WTTC has turned its attention to boarding processes.

WTTC envisions a future in which travelers can leave their house with one single biometric identifier – and board a plane or cruise, check into their hotel, and hire a car with that unique identifier.

In the words of our President and CEO Gloria Guevara, “Our vision is that the traveler of the future won’t need to provide the physical documents multiple times. Instead, their experience will be seamless, faster and more enjoyable throughout their entire journey. Biometrics will work at every touchpoint of the journey to make travelling easier for the passenger while providing border services with greater security.”

Technologically, this vision is no longer a pipedream. Biometric systems are fully functional in some places and rapidly developing in others. There is also great appetite within the travel sector to implement these new systems. Airlines, airports, cruise ports, hotels, and car hire companies have all somehow engaged in a number of trials and testing exercises in recent years, demonstrating commitment to the streamlining of boarding processes.

The real challenge for WTTC, then, lies in the coordination of all of the initiatives underway to ensure interoperability, and to make travelers journeys as seamless as they can possibly be.

On this front, WTTC has engaged a wide variety of stakeholders from the private and public sectors, hosting workshops in order to share progress updates and best practice models and launching a pilot in 2019 for the world’s first end-to-end seamless journey.

The first pilot programme will quantify the benefits of biometrics across all touchpoints of a traveler’s journey and work to identify solutions to advance a harmonised seamless traveler journey throughout the sector.

Through the 2019 trials, representatives from several industries within the Travel & Tourism sector, such as airlines, airports, hospitality, cruise, car rental, and potentially tour operators, will be able to jointly test different technologies that interconnect and work to improve the experience of the traveler.

The first pilot will see travelers on round-trips between Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and London using biometric technology to conduct all airline security, airport and border processes before accessing car rental and hotel check-in using the same biometric information.

In coordinating global efforts on biometrics, WTTC is also shining a spotlight on those organisations leading by example, such as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who have been innovating on biometric technology for the last decade.

Most recently, this took the form of expanding its entry and exit systems so that passengers are processed with facial and iris recognition technologies when travelling through the United States. Within 40 days of introducing this technology, officials at Washington Dulles Airport had identified three ‘impostors’ travelling with fake documentation or without legal status.

This proves a double-win for passengers, as the biometric systems enhance both security and efficiency of their journeys, speeding up queue times and ensuring that only valid and legal travelers can proceed through checkpoints. In terms of detailed facial recognition and pattern matching, the systems are more reliable than their human counterparts, and much quicker – the biometric scanners used at Dulles Airport, for example, take just two seconds to cross reference images with data and make an informed judgement on the validity of the passenger.

Consistent in CBP’s work is the objective of producing one cohesive biometrics system that airlines and airport partners can plug into, thus avoiding a duplication of efforts – an approach that WTTC endorses.

In the months ahead, WTTC will continue to bring together stakeholders from across the Travel & Tourism sector to explore what more can be done in this area, and to encourage collaboration on the development of these technologies. The prospect of getting from A to B effortlessly and with the assistance of the most ground-breaking technologies is no longer a futuristic idea, but rather at our fingertips.

Helena Bononi joined WTTC as Director Industry Affairs in March 2018, responsible for managing programmes under the strategic priority ‘Security and Travel Facilitation’.

Helena has been working in the Travel and Tourism sector for over 20 years and prior to joining WTTC was a Director for Global Operations and Customer Experience for Sabre Holdings, having worked in Latin America and in the US.

She has managed programmes for a range of products and services within Latin America, North America, Europe and Asia and has built extensive network in the Travel Industry.

Her work included developing growth strategies, strategically promoting product and services and managing interactions with customers, as well as using data analysis to improve business relationships, specifically focusing on customer retention and ultimately driving sales growth.