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In ​2018 there were 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals – a figure that the UNWTO expected some two years later in 2020. This growth (a 6% increase from 2017) is expected to continue, with the UNWTO forecasting a further expansion of 3–4%.

To support this growth, many biometric initiatives have been put in place, with the popularity of ePassports on the rise. ePassports are expected to reduce costs, improve security and enhance the reliability of data reading at border control points.

Elsewhere, new solutions continue to utilize biometric technology to improve the travel experience. 

Up in the air 

A high volume of passengers means crowds and queues are inevitable, and the experience of air travel isn't as easy and comfortable as it once was.

But there is hope.

The use of biometrics by airports is soaring and promises to speed up travel for all. It's already available in airports across Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Facial recognition technology can now be found in ABC gateshelping passengers to move securely and efficiently through border control points.

But it is also being deployed during aircraft boarding. This process offers airline passengers added convenience by simplifying, de-stressing and significantly speeding up the process.

Los Angeles International Airport is trialling boarding using facial recognition with leading airlines: passengers approach the gate and receive a confirmation via a computer screen and camera, following a facial verification from Customs and Border Protection's Traveller Verification Services.

Once verified, the captured images are wiped from the system to ensure privacy for all passengers.

In Europe, Airport specialist Amadeus has successfully tested facial recognition technology for flights operated by Adria Airways, Air France and LOT Polish Airlines at Ljubljana airport. 



The average boarding time was reduced by 75%, and all biometric data was deleted within 48 hours to guarantee compliance with the GDPR.

Elsewhere, Emirates has announced the launch of a fully integrated 'biometric pathat Dubai International airport. This will utilize the latest in facial and iris recognition technology to allow passengers to check-in for their flight, complete immigration formalities, enter the Emirates Lounge and board their plane.  

The ultimate goal is a complete experience where the passenger can arrive, check-in, go through security, access the lounge and board the plane using facial recognition. The technology is there; the next and more complex step is collating it in a set of individual touchpoints.

At ground level

Marriott Hotels is trialling a facial-recognition check-in system for guests at two of its hotels in Hainan, China. Once the guest's identity is confirmed, these biometric kiosks will provide booking information and key cards for the guest's room. 

Royal Caribbean has partnered with Tascent, Inc. to offer customers an "end-to-end biometric solution", utilizing facial recognition, to streamline the cruise line's check-in and boarding process. The cruise line believes this will not only improve efficiency but also improve the element of a personal welcome for its guests.

Biometric journey

It's one thing for governments to have access to so much personal data, but what about airlines, hotels and cruise lines?

Companies need to have policies in place – dictated by government regulation – to guarantee data is protected and encrypted:

  • when it is 'at rest' (this applies to structured and unstructured data, wherever it resides)
  • 'in motion' (data as it moves from the point of live capture to matching), as well as when the data is no longer required.

In Europe, for example, biometric data is either erased as soon as a flight departs or, in some cases, on completion of the return flight.

The advantages of utilizing biometric technology in the travel and leisure industry are many. Efficiency is improved and while travellers may see a reduced interaction with humans, the experience they do get will be more qualitative and focused on service.

And, crucially, security is significantly enhanced. 

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