Digital Identity in the Travel and Tourism Sector
On 24 March, as part of the Digital Identity Event Series 2022, techUK hosted a fascinating discussion looking at how digital identity technologies can transform travel and tourism and enable these sectors to bounce back from the impact of the pandemic. The panel explored how digital identity is and can be used in the travel sector, the opportunities and challenges in the UK and beyond, and what more needs to be done to realise the full benefits of digital identity for travel and tourism.
The panel included:
- Andrew Bud, CEO, iProov
- Gillian Jones, Senior Business Development Manager, Condatis, and Co-Chair, Decentralised Identity Foundation Travel and Hospitality Special Interest Group
- Jim Robinson, Managing Director, Pegasus Aviation Advisors
You can watch the full webinar here or read our summary of the key insights below:
Digital identity in travel and tourism: what’s the problem?
Kicking off the discussion, our panellists outlined the central problem facing the travel and tourism sector with which digital identity technologies can help.
Andrew Bud, iProov, highlighted increasing demands on time and space around points of entry and exit through the travel experience, where resources are already strictly limited. He said that it will be key to address the question of how to arouse growth in international travel as border checks and controls increase complexity and intensity.
Jim Robinson, Pegasus Aviation Advisors, noted that the pandemic had seen a leveraging of technology and increasingly empowering uses of data that hold the potential to enhance the travel experience beyond anything experienced before.
Whilst Gillian Jones, Condatis, was keen to emphasise a change in expectations among consumers following the pandemic, lowering the tolerance for time spent in queues or crowds for example, and the need for businesses and industries to adapt to a changed landscape.
Presentation: iProov and Eurostar, SmartCheck
Andrew Bud, iProov, gave a presentation outlining iProov’s work around facial biometrics for verification and its recent pilot project working with Eurostar.
iProov provides remote identity verification services with global customers from across governments, financial institutions and increasingly travel and border applications.
As part of a project funded by the Department for Transport through InnovateUK, iProov recently worked with Entrust on a project called SmartCheck. SmartCheck is a digital identity solution that was deployed with Eurostar, utilising facial biometrics for identity verification and streamlining ticket and passport checks at St. Pancras International Station.
Looking at the traveller journey, Andrew identified a number of pain points including multiple bottlenecks, a fragmented customer experienced and increasing pressures on time and space. As new data recording requirements arise, these issues will increase with a need for high levels of data collection prior to travel. At points of entry and exit, too, limitations with current passport technology and a need for manual checks causes friction throughout the process.
As this is the case, Andrew emphasised that these security checks will need to be moved away from these points of entry and exit, invoking the idea of the ‘centrality of the couch’. Essentially, this means shifting processes of trusted document and face capture to mobile devices operated by consumers at the home or on the couch, and permitting a secure and private flow of biometrics and data from couch to carriage.
In doing so, the traveller experience can be enhanced whilst reducing resource demands at points of entry and exit, as well as ensuring more resilient security.
Andrew noted that the design of these processes could take multiple forms: data and biometrics could be stored as a digital travel credential on a device or in the cloud.
Key to consumer buy-in will be ensuring that consumers are well informed on the technology, that the use of biometrics in such projects is not for facial identification but facial verification of a user self-certified identity, underpinned by consent and privacy.
Overall, feedback from the SmartCheck project found that travellers love the technology, with 86% very likely or likely to use it in the future.
Presentation: Condatis, Building a traveller-focused ecosystem
Gillian Jones, Condatis and Co-Chair of the DIF Travel and Hospitality Special Interest Group, gave a presentation exploring the opportunities provided by digital identity technologies in travel and tourism and how to build an ecosystem that puts the traveller at the centre.
Gillian invoked the idea of identity as a highly valuable commodity that users can control and choose to use and share. These identities are a vital component of the travel journey, with ID documents and credentials having a repeatable impact throughout journeys.
There are commonalities across individual touchpoints for identity verification throughout the travel experience, with the information used to cross a border also leveraged in a hotel lobby for example, that provide opportunities for the sector to enhance the customer experience with joined up solutions that look at the traveller as a totality, improving security around what data is shared and the quality of data available for businesses. Gillian envisaged an almost ‘single sign on’ experience for travellers that facilitates a seamless journey rather than forcing consumers to jump between data silos for different aspects of travel.
Whilst such applications of digital identity technology are nascent, there are many ways to improve the travelling experience now whilst government schemes and other bigger contingent issues such as those around decentralised vs centralised identity are solved.
If a consumer elects to share their data with airlines, hotels, train operators, restaurants etc., it is up to industry to use that data in a better, less fragmented way. As users are put in control of their data, businesses are positioned to make travellers personalised offers that put them at the heart of considerations. However, this is not about starting again, but taking current infrastructure and bringing digital technology into the landscape.
In closing, Gillian highlighted a number of use cases identified by the DIF Travel and Hospitality Special Interest Group including: bag pickup and delivery (integrated aviation and hospitality solution), independent travelers (for managing change and disruption), verified hotel stay (verifiable credentials and offers).
Presentation: Pegasus Aviation Advisors, Leveraging SSI for a better travel experience
Jim Robinson, Pegasus Aviation Advisors, gave a presentation exploring how self-sovereign identity (SSI) can be leveraged to create a better, more seamless travel experience.
Whilst it is still early days, Jim emphasised the need to cultivate and develop foundational technology that can take us well into the future, and pointed to SSI as one of those key technologies.
He outlined a concept for an SSI platform that allows travellers to book their journey – however complex – based on personalised travel preferences, with an on-the-day touchless and fully integrated real-time travel experience that provides complete visibility, guidance and predictability on each mode of travel and hospitality experience via a virtual personal intelligent travel assistant (wallet or cloud-based). Such an opt-in global trusted data platform would enable endless use cases for the travel experience.
The vision, for Jim, is to leverage technology such as SSI and biometrics to enable growth in air travel and tourism by creating a complete end to end experience. Indeed, the promise of ‘Web 3.0’ and its decentralised emphasis for digital identity lies in the idea of triangular peer to peer trust, between issuer > holder > verifier, that can facilitate further applications not yet considered.
In the air transport industry, though, Jim noted a number of challenges including: a highly regulated sector, an adversarial aviation community, non-aligned business models, cumbersome procurement, risk aversion and resistance to sharing critical data.
An ecosystem for an SSI platform underpinned by an intelligent personal travel assistant centres on the idea of a traveller that owns themselves and their data, with business providing services and benefits to them in the physical world, would require a number of key features including: data privacy and sovereignty, a trusted data platform, GDPR compliance, an opt-in platform, open source apps and interoperability. The ecosystem would be supported by enabling technology such as blockchain, 5G, biometrics, AI, IoT, cloud and more.
By creating such an ecosystem, travellers are put at the centre via an end to end experience and empowered to opt in to share their information as a universal travel experience record (UTXR). This UTXR allows the collaborative and trusted data sharing that enables a seamless experience for travellers. Adopting such an approach puts users in control, addressing who ‘owns’ passengers and future GDPR requirements, establishes standards across all players to drive innovation in the market, and expands the offering for passengers.
With the TSA recently publishing its Identity Roadmap, the World Economic Forum continuing its work around Known Traveller Digital ID, and the publication of the eIDAS Blueprint by the EU, there is a distinct window of opportunity for industry to step up as a central component of the discussion.
Concluding the presentation, Jim said that, as part of the DIF Special Interest Group, stakeholders including airlines and airports are now being brought together to discuss and begin deploying proof of concepts.
Benefits for consumers
Following the presentations, the conversation shifted to look at how digital identity technology can provide benefits for both businesses and consumers in travel and tourism.
Andrew Bud highlighted how the creation of a verifiable credential, as part of an SSI that can sit in a wallet or on the cloud, from the couch in a way that allows different organisations throughout the journey to access only the information they need in a secure, provable way opens up the potential for a seamless walkthrough travel experience that would greatly benefit consumers.
On this point, Gillian Jones said there is a need to acknowledge that broadly people have been negligent in their use of identity documents in the past. Using a drivers’ license, for example, to prove age when buying alcohol provides far more personal information than is required. It is a similar story when providing your passport at a hotel check-in desk. When using a digital identity-enabled process instead, a traveller has more control over what personal information they share.
Benefits for businesses
Looking at the other side of the coin, there are myriad benefits that digital identity technology can provide for businesses in the tech, travel and tourism space.
Jim Robinson noted that adopting digital identity solutions can reduce transaction time in airports and create a higher throughput without needing to create and invest in more physical infrastructure.
The business model consideration was raised by Andrew, who said that the traditional model of a centralised data and service provider who controls all of the information and doles it out to different players throughout a journey is comprehensible and already has a business model – though it requires lots of links and all players to trust the provider. Alternatively, with a verifiable credential or SSI model each player can access zero knowledge proof with a known level of trust, which is structurally simpler but lacks a business model.
For Jim, as SSI disintermediates all of these central databases, business opportunities are to be found in the new innovations of services that will emerge from the adoption of this technology.
Gillian went further and explained how airlines, hotels and every player in the travel and tourism ecosystem can benefit from the SSI model. These companies often get poor quality data from online booking or travel agents, hindering their ability to provide tailored services. If instead they were able to access high quality data which a user has consented to share with the intention of receiving better services, this would provide a huge commercial opportunity to seize control of that information and shift away from territorial battles with online travel agents and use technology to make direct offers that provide personal value and create brand loyalty.
Andrew said there is a challenge around the relying parties, as the whole process provides them with value but costs are created both to the consumer and potentially to the issuer as well. The question is who is going to bear that cost if not the consumer and how the process of value transfer takes place and flows through the ecosystem.
How do we bring the tech and the travel and tourism sectors together to drive innovation?
Drawing together the discussion, each panellist was asked how we can bring the tech and travel and tourism sectors together – as powerhouses of commerce – to drive innovation and adoption of digital identity technology.
Gillian Jones said that the DIF is bringing together lots of smart and senior people from companies involved throughout the travel and tourism journey – from hotels to airlines to car rentals – to share problems and identify potential ways forward. She said that the opportunity to ask questions and have an open discussion with other stakeholders in the space is incredibly valuable.
Jim Robinson cautioned against boiling the ocean and said that there is a need to find the low hanging fruit to prove this technology in travel and tourism. SSI technology is foundational and new and emerging, industry and governments now need to look to embrace it as we begin the digital transformation journey.
Making the final remark, Andrew Bud said that the pandemic has transformed the way biometrics are used and asserted the ‘centrality of the couch’ whilst the dam is finally breaking on SSI and verifiable credentials too, bringing together and entwining two massive trends in the public space – creating an exciting moment of opportunity.
Digital Identity Event Series 2022
Throughout 2022, techUK is exploring uses and potential applications of digital identity technologies, what more needs to be done to drive adoption across different sectors, and the key role digital ID can play in the future of the UK digital economy.
If you'd like to find out more about techUK's work on digital identity, visit our programme page or reach out via the below contacts:
Jake has been the Policy Manager for Skills and Future of Work since May 2022, supporting techUK's work to empower the UK to skill, attract and retain the brightest global talent, and prepare for the digital transformations of the future workplace.
Previously, Jake was the Programme Assistant for Policy. He joined techUK in March 2019 and has also worked across the EU Exit, International Trade, and Cloud, Data Analytics and AI programmes.
He also holds an MA in International Relations from the University of Sussex, as well as a BA(Hons) in International Politics from Aberystwyth University. During his time at Aberyswyth University, he won the International Politics Dissertation Prize.