Airport and airline IT executives believe that the growing number of tech-savvy travellers will have the biggest impact on their digital plans over the next six years to 2025, according to a recent report by SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques), an IT provider to the air transport industry.
The report shows 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.
This demographic shift has created digital travellers who are demanding more automation and hands-on control over each step of their journey. In particular, they 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.
"Expect big growth in passenger terms in Africa and one of key requirements to accommodate this growth would be the need for more automation at the airports and in passenger processing to absorb the load. A lot of collaboration between stakeholders would also be required," Sébastien Fabre, vice president of the Airline & Airport Portfolio at SITA, told Fin24.
"All the technology to achieve this is available and maybe Africa could leapfrog on implementing solutions at airports to basically create a seamless end to end passenger experience."
He says the SITA survey shows passengers are less stressed when they go through self-service and automation and 60% of respondents said they are willing to use their mobile phones to interface at the airport.
Asked what the challenges are which could be holding back the implementation of these technologies, Fabre said it is likely a question of investment in infrastructure being required, like self-service devices. Having to change or adjust regulations likely also play a role, therefore requiring buy-in from governments.
"Ideally the governments in a region need to get together to facilitate the data processing, or the airlines and airports must get together to facilitate passenger identity management," suggests Fabre.
Biometric technology is one of the key enablers to delivering more automation as well as smoothly linking each step in the journey. This technology is already being used at airports for border control and boarding aircraft and that is set to grow significantly, both in terms of geographic spread and functionality.
According to SITA’s research, more than over half of the industry's IT leaders believe biometric travel tokens will be the key driver for the future passenger experience.
To date, the focus has largely been on using biometric identity across a single journey or airport but more and more the industry is shifting its focus to providing a persistent digital identity that can be used across multiple journeys.
SITA is already working with industry organizations such as IATA, ICAO and ACI and is founding steward of the Sovrin Foundation, a private-sector, international non-profit whose mission is to enable self-sovereign identity online.
SITA is investing heavily to develop a framework to allow all to access data.
"For us it is about collaboration and we are investing a lot in this," added Fabre. "Collaborating in Africa can be a great enabler. So we need to find a way to absorb the air traffic growth in an efficient manner and that will be great enabler for the continent."