Traveling After COVID-19

For the first time ever, close to 90 percent of the world’s population now lives in nations with travel restrictions. Airlines, travel businesses and the tourism industry as a whole are one of the most affected businesses. An estimated 25 million aviation projects and 100 million travel and tourism jobs are in danger. Between five and seven years’ worth of business growth will possibly be lost.

We’ll travel again, but it won’t be the same. Even if boundaries reopen, travellers must trust that boarding a plane is secure and that they’ll have the ability to go into the destination country. New health security protocols and systems need to be set up, and these have to be defined. As authorities and business plan for healing in this new context and adapt to changing pupil behavior, using digital identity and biometrics technology could re-establish trust whilst in also ensuring a seamless journey. However, these tools will only be effective if users believe that their information is protected. Privacy, consent and transparent data governance has to be at the heart of any technical solution.

Here are two important regions of transformation where digital technologies will shape the future of travel.

Touchless travel
The most immediate and possibly most visible change will be a change to touchless traveling from airport curbside to resort check-in. In spite of strict cleaning protocols set up, exchanging travel records and touching surfaces through check-in, security, border management, and boarding nevertheless represent a substantial threat of infection for both travellers and staff.

Automation across the whole industry will become the new standard. Biometrics are already a widely accepted alternative for identity verification, and their use will become more prevalent as physical fingerprint and hand scanners are phased out. More touchless choices will come into play such as contactless fingerprint, in addition to iris and face recognition. Moreover, technology for touchless data-entry like gesture management, touchless document scanning and voice controls are already being analyzed. Care has to be taken to ensure these technologies are inclusive and to remove the danger of possible biases.

Digital health passports
From now on, health could be embedded in all aspects of travel. According to a survey from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), measures like visible sanitizing, masks and screening all increase passengers’ feelings of security when considering travelling after COVID-19.

So far, there’s absolutely no standard or arrangement on the acceptable level of risk for reopening boundaries or allowing people to travel. Until a vaccine is developed, the focus is changing to assessing the probability of individual passengers. Together with the passenger’s approval, travel companies and airlines may use personal data such as their age, underlying health conditions and travel history to compile a single risk profile.

Efforts to develop health protocols and criteria using digital technology for the travel and tourism sector are still in their initial phases. Meanwhile, airlines like Emirates are running onsite COVID-19 testing for passengers. European airports have started drawing industry guidelines for passenger health screening. While not new, using thermal cameras at airports is becoming more prevalent. Quite a few symptom-tracking and contact-tracing programs now exist in several countries. Apple and Google are close to finalizing a contact-tracing software scheme for programmers to construct compatible apps.

New health-screening and monitoring tools provide hope of a return to relaxed and traveling. However, they also have attracted privacy and data issues to the forefront of the discussion. Any solutions will need to be transparent and protected if travellers are to adopt them. Information should be shared on an’licensed to understand’ and’need to know’ basis, with informed consent and in accord with applicable regulations.