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Innovative technology driving automation for travel and tourism

Throughout the world’s airports, transport networks and the global hospitality industry, automation is revolutionising the way people travel and access services. In order to provide a seamless and personalised journey, the travel and tourism industry must continuously embrace innovation and adopt new technologies. 

Thanks to the wide adoption of self-service check-outs in supermarkets and unattended payment machines, people are becoming ever more at ease using modern self-service terminals. The combination of technologically aware customers and kiosks designed to be intuitive for general public use, is helping to drive their rapid deployment and evolution across the travel industry.

Innovative technology driving automation for travel and tourism

Where we are: 

According to the recent International Air Transport Association Global Passenger survey, 55% of all journeys in 2019 were made by 18-44 year olds with 27% of those passengers being aged 18-34. Like the well-travelled business passengers, this new generation of passengers and tourists have high expectations of the customer journey, from booking flights with a few swipes to checking in at their destination hotel using an ID document and facial recognition. 

Self-service kiosks, e-gates and payment terminals are increasingly deployed across the travel, tourism and hospitality industry to improve security and the customer experience while reducing strain on infrastructure and customer service costs. These kiosks and terminals are increasingly becoming the first touchpoints for travellers, guests and customers, allowing operators to personalise services and add additional revenue opportunities through marketing or chargeable extras. 

Innovative technology driving automation for travel and tourism

Footprint reduction

While there will always be representatives or agents to talk to, operators are looking for new ways to reduce the footprint of deployed infrastructure to address growing limitations of private space. 

Services such as currency exchange, tax refunds on purchases made while travelling or tourist information locations are becoming increasingly automated, reducing the footprint required to meet the growing number of users. These ever more demanding requirements are creating new standards for kiosk size and portability. The use of innovative devices such as touch screens, combination barcode and NFC readers, identity document readers, facial recognition, payment devices and printers, especially when combined with internet connectivity are critical to satisfying operator requirements now and in the future. Modular kiosk design with common form factors and interchangeable components are helping to reduce manufacturing cost, allowing kiosks and e-gates to be configured to meet a vast array of industry requirements from visa application kiosks to immigration and border control. 

Talking tokens

The use of barcode, NFC and ID document readers enables travellers, guests and customers to identify themselves using a pre issued machine-readable token instead of manually entering data on a touch screen display. These tokens can range from a QR or Aztec format barcode displayed by a hand-held device such as a boarding pass, a local transit card with an embedded RFID chip to the MRZ (machine readable zone) from a government issued travel document; all of which need to be read quickly and accurately from a single point of presentation. The process of substituting an element of sensitive data with a non-sensitive equivalent is called tokenisation and is widely used in industry to replace objects such as personal data from identity documents, a physical ticket for an event and, more commonly, payment card details. Businesses and organisations are increasingly employing the use of tokens to help travellers, guests and customers to begin a transactional process or identify themselves at an unattended, automated terminal. 

Tokenising complex data speeds up processes at all touchpoints and removes the possibility of human error providing a seamless customer experience. In 2019, 51% of passengers travelling with IATA members used on-line check-in via a smart phone or other devices, instantly receiving an electronic copy of their boarding pass with a QR barcode. From using an automated bag drop kiosk at the airport, hiring a car at the destination or checking into the hotel, a traveller will use their travel document and barcode or RFID tokens numerous times to identify themselves to an electronic system, pass through security gates or to access a pre-booked product or service. 

The specialist devices used to capture these machine-readable tokens, encompass core technologies, including high resolution optical imaging, near field communication, barcode decoding algorithms and proprietary OCR (optical character recognition) engines. When combined into compact OEM and desktop form factors these technologies produce sophisticated multi-function products supplied with multiple interface options and robust APIs for integration with electronic systems. 

Machine Readable Technology

Modern OEM barcode imagers make use of LED illumination, optical imaging and processors that host barcode decoding software to deconstruct the captured image and present the data to an electronic system. The Access-IS TripTick® offers additional Near Field Communication (NFC) capability in the same form factor as the standalone barcode reader for reading RFID chips and enabling contactless EMV for payment systems. NFC modules use radio frequency to establish peer to peer communication between two devices, one device is usually portable such as a smartphone or a contactless card, and the other is the dedicated NFC reader or writer often integrated into a kiosk or gate.

An excellent example of where these machine-reading technologies come together is an identity document eMRTD (electronic Machine Readable Travel Document) reader. These devices use automatic document detection to trigger image capture with multiple wavelengths of illumination and OCR processing for capturing printed text data. The high resolution colour, infrared and ultraviolet images can be used for visual inspection by trained operators or with electronic identity document validation technology. NFC capability allows the devices’ API (application programming interface) to access the RFID chips of ePassports and eID cards providing the digital personal data, biometric image and perform security checks on the document. The inclusion of a barcode engine for reading 1D/2D barcodes from tickets, hand held devices and thermal receipts crucially offers a single point of presentation for documents and tokens essential to a user friendly experience.

Where to next

As operators have readily adopted and deployed large scale automation projects the standards and expectations of travellers as a whole have grown at an unprecedented rate. With traditional market share for hotels, hostels and accommodation being challenged, Hoteliers are launching new brands to provide experience driven services to the mid-level segment of their clients allowing them to compete with the online marketplaces for lodgings and private rentals. The recently published white paper, “Who’s Sleeping With You?” by Henry H.Harteveldt, Travel Industry Analyst, Hudson Crossing LLC, highlighted that the average age of hotel guests in the US was dropping with 46% of hotel guests being aged between 18-36. Forward thinking operators are meeting the demands of this new demographic of travellers and changes in government legislation by using new technology. 

In the European Union and many other countries, it is a requirement for the operators of hotels and private accommodation to collect guest information including; name, nationality, and travel document number, enabling law enforcement to cross-check for wanted individuals, criminals, or missing persons. With large groups of tourists arriving at the same time, it is not uncommon for hotels to hold onto guests’ passports to manually complete the registration process and take a photocopy of the document. Through the use of self-service kiosks with an integrated identity document reader, the steps of capturing a high resolution image, guest information and entering it into a property management system can be completely automated, instantly creating an auditable electronic record while the document never leaves the guests’ possession. This releases hotel reception staff to greet guests and provide a much higher level of customer service while overseeing a number of terminals.

Facing the future

As the use of self-service kiosks, e-gates and unattended payment machines matures, the next emphasis for the travel and tourism industry will most likely be end-to-end biometric implementation. According to a recent IATA publication, 45% of surveyed passengers are in support of sharing additional personal data and replacing ePassports and travel documents with biometrics. This creates further opportunities to provide scalable enrolment solutions making use of identity document readers and facial recognition technology. Travellers, guests and customers will be able to identify themselves at each customer touch point through simple biometric recognition, speeding up the entire journey.

Imagine the future of cruise ship boarding. Passengers arrive in a reception area greeted by a customer services agent who directs them towards an enrolment area. At a kiosk they present their pre-boarding barcode starting an automated enrolment process with a tailored welcome message.  The terminal asks them to place their passport on the document reader to instantly cross check their guest data with the management system; finally a high resolution facial image is taken tokenising their information. They are welcomed on board by the member of staff now free to offer a personal service and answer any questions they have. The guest is now able to enjoy cabins, lounges, restaurants, and disembark for excursions all with a simple smile. Age verification and security checks become automated providing a seamless experience while reducing the need for dedicated staff. 

Thanks to Access-IS for the article.

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