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Blockchain, AI, biometrics to disrupt travel industry in 2020

Read time 6min 10sec
Digital travellers will expect to use their mobile phones each step of their journey.
Digital travellers will expect to use their mobile phones each step of their journey.

The travel industry is in the midst of a metamorphosis, as smart travel solutions play an increasingly crucial role in people’s travel experiences, boosting the number of tourists around the world.

So says Jiten Vyas, regional group COO at visa outsourcing and technology services specialist VFS Global, who believes 2020 will see a growing number of people who travel, as technology revolutionises the traveller’s overall experience by making it more streamlined and personalised.

The joint force between new technological solutions and travel is increasingly impacting how people travel: from the vacation destination they choose, to the visa application process, all the way to accessing airport transit systems, to what they do upon arrival and even in the time after they’ve returned from their adventure, he notes.

“The World Tourism Organisation estimates that 1.8 billion tourists are set to travel globally by 2030. Going hand-in-hand with this burgeoning travelling populace is a technological revolution of sorts. Constant technological updates in the industry lead to new levels of innovation in services and the number of smart travel solutions being offered is driving the number of people visiting other parts of the world.”

A Google Travel study found 74% of travellers plan their trips on the Internet due to more simplified, seamless processes, while only 13% still use travel agencies.

Emerging technologies such as automation, authentication tools, artificial intelligence (AI), biometrics and blockchain are helping businesses in the travel industry offer more innovative products and services, creating seamless processes for consumers while increasing competition.

Traditionally stringent visa processes are now more streamlined, customised and better suited to the needs of the traveller, notes Vyas. One example is the “Visa At Your Doorstep” solution, which brings the visa application and biometrics process to the customer’s doorstep, eliminating the need for the customer to visit a visa centre.

“Another example of experience-driven solutions made possible by versatile technologies is a proprietary ‘appointment scheduling system’ that automatically arranges visa appointment slot capacity by analysing date, time-range and visa type. The system can even allocate a queue number at the time of making an appointment, and ensures no customer is allowed to book multiple appointments, ensuring a seamless experience for all customers using the same interface.”

At the backend, breakthrough solutions like location-independent document processing are being used by governments across the globe.

“This solution allows consulates to remotely process visa applications submitted in another country, resulting in considerable time and resource savings for the government,” says Vyas.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, South Africa’s travel industry is among the top three fastest growing industries in the country, contributing close to 9% to gross domestic product while employing over 1.6 million people.

SA is in the process of implementing an e-VISA, with the Department of Home Affairs currently piloting the tech with three of the world’s most populated nations: Kenya, India and Nigeria.

“In the South African context, biometric and online solutions are also used widely for residence permit programmes for the Department of Home Affairs, and the Lesotho and Zimbabwe governments allowing large volumes of applications to be processed in a streamlined and efficient manner,” Vyas points out.

Jiten Vyas, regional group COO at VFS Global.
Jiten Vyas, regional group COO at VFS Global.

Personalised travel experience

In May 2019, Google launched Google Travel, a metasearch Web site, which aggregates flights, hotels, vacation packages and trip planning features all in one online platform.

Robert Brown, GVP and MD of Travelport, says in the last 10 years, online travel has moved from ‘Generation Calculation’ – an e-commerce, desktop-led experience that focused on booking transactions – to ‘Generation Now’ – where customers expect to be able to interact with travel brands when they want, how they want and on the right channel.

He believes the travel industry will see the growth of virtual and multi-modal interlining, where itineraries combine ground transport operators and air content to expand the travel options offered through one search.

“Travel agencies need to cater for the new consumer who has shifted to an always-on, multi-device, multi-channel, multi-experience journey. If you’re selling an air, hotel, or car service, that means the delivery of APIs is important to support the full workflows you’d expect across search, price, book, ticket, pay, rules, cancel, and modify. All of this allows your agency to remain closer to ‘Generation Now’ across the entire journey and offer additional value beyond the booking.”

Furthermore, Brown believes advancements in software development kits over the last few years have made chat technology more accessible to smaller and mid-sized travel brands.

“As a result, in 2020, we can expect to see more applications of chatbots across the entire customer journey. A quick win for travel brands is a customer service bot that answers some of the most frequently asked questions. But the most innovative brands will use AI and natural language processing for a smarter chat interface that continually learns and develops.”

Ogone Ntwae, MD of IT advisory service focusing on the tourism sector, Empiron, points out that in the last 30 years, technology has made significant inroads into the tourism business value chain by harnessing the benefits of big data, supercomputing and Internet of things to improve efficiency and effectiveness in meeting customer expectations.

“Tourism is one of the industries that have adopted technology well throughout the third industrial revolution. While traditional products and services in the tourism sector such as airline seats, hotels and lodges, heritage site visits and transportation may not necessarily be digitalised, the information about them can be fully digitised to enhance efficiency and allow travellers to personalise their own experience through add-ons like extra legroom, additional baggage allowance and meal upgrades and choose their preferred rooms,” says Ntwae.

Digital travellers

An online survey conducted by air transport IT and communications specialist SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques) among 7 600 airport and airline IT executives from 20 countries found the growing number of tech-savvy travellers will have the biggest impact on their digital strategies by 2025.

It notes that by 2025, 68% of all passengers will be digital travellers and will expect to manage their travel in much the same way they do every other aspect of their daily lives – using their mobile phones each step of their journey.

“This demographic shift brings with it the expectation to use technology everywhere – including during travel,” says Barbara Dalibard, SITA CEO.

“This will have a profound impact on how passengers interact with airports and airlines by 2025. Travellers expect to use their mobile phone to access services ranging from baggage location notifications, to boarding and payments.

“They also expect their trip to be delivered as a single, unified experience across airports, airlines, border control and other modes of transport – from the moment they leave home to when they arrive at their destination.”

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