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A New (Contactless) World – The Future Is Closer Than We Think

Smooth traffic flow and optimized processes can lead to more commercial opportunities at airports Similar technologies can be used for many other different touchpoints such as hotels, rental car pickup, transit trains etc. to say the least.

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Though COVID-19’s impact for the Travel & Tourism sector has been worse compared to most, if not all the other sectors, it has still become a catalyst for innovation, and the integration of newer technologies. Safety has become the driver for the current wave of innovation and will continue to be so in the ‘new normal’.

As the handshake got replaced with the ‘Namaste’, we realized that the new world is becoming increasingly contactless. This reminds me of an incident from more than a decade back. I was flying from Moline, Illinois to San Francisco, California. I was standing in a long queue for boarding. The person standing in front of me held his mobile phone over the scanner proceeded to board. I on the other hand boarded the traditional way. I handed my paper printout to the airport personnel, who scanned the barcode before letting me proceed. ‘Contactless’ technologies have been around for a while and it has been tried and tested, to solve the growing volume of passengers before the pandemic. It is now at the core of the transformation that the travel industry needs today.

If anything will renew confidence in global travel and spur recovery of the industry, it’s technology. ‘Digital Identity’ and ‘Contactless Technology’ have come to the forefront, as a basic prerequisite for a safe and seamless travel experience. Sharing a traveler’s information in a secure and touchless way across all touchpoints in a journey, is the key. Also, it will be critical that all the information in the digital identity profile should be recognized internationally with a global standard. Touchless biometrics solutions include face and iris recognition. Advanced technologies like behavior detection, body recognition, video analytics, artificial intelligence, and deep learning etc. for contactless systems are increasingly getting implemented.

Why is Biometric Verification Required at Airports?

· At the airport, passengers juggle between different documents, go through repetitive processes, resulting in long queues, which in turn leads to customer dissatisfaction and delays. To eliminate this and make it quick, hygienic, and secure, touchless biometric verification through multiple touchpoints in the airport will need to be implemented. This could be used to check bags, enter security, access the lounge and board the airplane with a secure and touchless way rather than passing documents back and forth

· To improve airport staff productivity by reducing manual ID checks

· For Smart Queuing - real-time visibility of where passengers are in the airport process, allowing smart queuing from the curb to gate, and onto the plane, leading to optimization of airport operations and optimization of space usage.

Smooth traffic flow and optimized processes can lead to more commercial opportunities at airports Similar technologies can be used for many other different touchpoints such as hotels, rental car pickup, transit trains etc. to say the least.

Along with airport biometric verification, safety checks like thermal scanning for temperature are also needed. And if we implement biometric identity verification properly, it can provide a great experience to the traveler, including border crossing, customs, health document checks, baggage claim and car rental, etc.

Digital ID solutions and biometrics could lift consumers’ confidence, but the current problem is the fragmentation of biometric solutions. There are many out there in the market which solves a localized problem but does not provide holistic end-to-end solutions. These solutions are not able to communicate with each other due to lack of standardization and interoperability. IATA (International Air Transport Association) has launched its ‘One ID’ project which introduces the creation of a single biometric token as the digital identity of a passenger, with no need for a physical passport as travelers go through traditional touchpoints. To achieve a truly interoperable system and One ID to be efficient, coordination between airports, airlines, and governments is needed.

It is expected that more touchless options will emerge for identity verification. The sector will also experience an acceleration, particularly in the short-term innovations in health & safety. Examples being ‘Thermal Imaging’ or ‘Infrared Thermographic Systems’ which have been used by several countries during epidemics, enabling virtual health screening at airports. Robotics & Automation Technology, UV cleaning Technology, Voice Technology, Gesture Recognition Technology etc. will make inroads into the arena and accelerate innovation in their respective areas. Touchless technologies will push credit cards, touchscreens, or digital signature pens etc. to a thing of the past.

So, I am confident, the technology that will disrupt the travel industry will be a health-related innovation which will drive ‘Touchless Travel’. COVID-19 has challenged us to do things differently at an unprecedented pace. Let’s use this opportunity to do as much as we can when the ecosystem is providing a climate to embrace innovation, and by propelling adoption by the travel industry, in order to streamline traffic and restore confidence in safe air travel and put passengers in control of their safety and journey. With all the accelerated innovation, the future is not far away, it is closer than we think.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Sanjeeb Patel

Director - Software Engineering, Sabre Travel Solutions Product Development, Sabre Corporation, Bengaluru GCC

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