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10 Apr 2019

BY Andrew Doherty


How biometrics is reshaping the travel experience

Whether it’s in the airport or at a hotel, biometrics is influencing travel more than ever. Nora Blomefield of digital security company, Gemalto, looks at how the technology is evolving.

Heathrow Biometrics.jpg

"According to Iata, by 2037, it’s estimated that 8.2 billion people will pass through airports around the world, nearly double what is expected this year."

Over the past decade, technology has accelerated the transformation of travel and empowered all players in the industry in their quest to deliver a frictionless travel experience for their customers.


One of the key areas of innovation in this space is removing the hassle from the different checkpoints passengers go through in airports, train stations or even at hotel receptions.


Security checks at airports or in train stations have traditionally led to lengthy queues and unnecessary hold-ups, often causing stress when travellers should be looking to unwind.


But today’s technology is helping to expedite passenger checks and create a relaxing and secure environment. In particular, leveraging the unique physical biometric data of customers for identification is leading the change against traditional methods of border control and station management.

Facial recognition

Facial recognition software and fingerprint scanning technology is not new to the industry, but the worldwide rollout has been slow and is only just gathering pace.


Acceleration has been tied to the rise of biometric technology in consumer gadgets, such as smartphones and gaming consoles, but there’s a capacity issue here too.


According to Iata, by 2037, it’s estimated that 8.2 billion people will pass through airports around the world, nearly double what is expected this year.


Current airline terminals are not equipped to deal with such exponential growth and so biometric technologies, mainly in the form of facial recognition, but sometimes fingerprint and iris scanning, can provide a solution that not only manages such heavy traffic but also does not impact the overall consumer experience.


Facial biometrics has the advantage of offering a non-intrusive, on-the-go verification method that allows passengers to avoid any additional delays to their journey while providing authorities with trustable data.


For airports and airlines, biometric technology offers a great opportunity to improve the passenger experience.


To make this a reality, industry leaders have transformed traditional customer pain points, such as border control – the automated border control market is growing because of the wider adoption of self-service and facial recognition technology.


But biometric verification is expanding to help streamline airline processes too. For example, renowned industry leaders, such as British Airways, are turning to biometric boarding solutions to ensure its passengers benefit from the smooth and secure process of ID verification that facial recognition software provides.


So much so, that British Airways now claims that it can board a plane full of 400 passengers in just 22 minutes using facial recognition technology.


Such transformation is not confined just to airports. Hotels have also thrown their hat into the facial recognition technology ring.


A property in Japan called The Henn Nahas recently become the world’s first robot-staffed hotel, using AI and facial recognition software to answer customer enquiries and check-in customers automatically.

Improving customer experiences

The travel and tourism industry can lead the deployment of biometric technology to improve its service and deliver an enjoyable and efficient experience. But in order to do this, the industry needs to build trust using biometrics across multiple touch points with the customer.


This trust depends on two main things: choosing biometric systems that are underpinned by strong security and can be scaled effectively, and the willingness of different stakeholders to work together on integrated processes and shared key performance indicators (KPIs).


These solutions must replace siloed, independent systems that will fail to bring the ultimate, frictionless experience to travellers and consumers.


In fact, countries are already legislating to ensure that they can reap security and convenience benefits.


For example, the upcoming EU Entry-Exit System (EES) will be deployed in 2021 and will ask member states to collect facial data as well as four fingerprints from all third-country nationals, entering or exiting one of the 26 states.


Not only will this substantially improve how nations track and record immigration, but it will provide an efficient system that minimises delays as well as spot travellers overstaying their visa.

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