It's that time of the year when millions of us are looking forward to a break. Meeting passengers’ expectation during these peak travel periods has driven much IT investment by airlines, airports and government bodies – to smooth processes and ease frustrations. For a country's border authorities, the demands of tourism are often as important as keeping borders open for commerce.
International tourist arrivals show virtually uninterrupted growth, more than doubling in the past 20 years – from 528 million in 1995 to 1,087 million in 2013. And they’re set to grow still further. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, tourist arrivals worldwide are set to grow by 3.3% a year to reach 1.8 billion by 2030.
Strong growth will be seen in Asia and the Pacific, where tourist arrivals are set to increase by 331 to 535 million in 2030 – that’s 4.9% a year.
The Middle East and Africa are expected to more than double their arrivals in this period, from 61 to 149 million and from 50 to 134 million respectively.
In the meantime, Europe (from 475 to 744 million) and the Americas (from 150 to 248 million) will grow relatively more slowly.
Much of that traffic is focused around major holiday periods and, on a daily basis, around peak travel times. For example, the Greater Orlando Airport Authority has to handle five flights a day from the UK arriving at its peak hours between 4 pm and 6 pm.
They’re mainly Boeing 747s, often with more than 400 passengers, which presents the immigration area with a surge of travelers within a tight timeframe. Because of the scheduling of trans-Atlantic flights, the authority has no flexibility in altering that surge, so it’s had to find solutions to supplement passenger processing and make it work.
The time taken to process undesirable or inadmissible persons represents a significant drain on resources and budgets, not to mention the cost of processing and repatriating a single inadmissible asylum seeker, for example, which can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
With security and immigration issues in the political limelight, and overall global passenger numbers forecast to grow from 3 billion now to 7.3 billion by 2034 (IATA figures), it’s no wonder investment in IT at air borders is on the rise.
And it's not just one or two systems needed to solve the border equation. It demands a sophisticated multi-layered approach that encompasses multiple stakeholder organizations. Increasingly, that approach includes pre-travel authorization.
“In effect, that means governments can push out their borders, pre-clearing travelers in their country of origin and delivering a smoother experience on arrival. With growing numbers of passengers today and particularly at peak times and for big events, this is a critical advantage for a country,” says Dan Ebbinghaus, Senior Vice President, Government and Security at SITA.
“At government level, pre-clearance of travelers requires extensive integration across multiple systems and departments,” he adds.
That level of integration enables the performance of timely intelligence-based risk assessment of travelers based on data they’ve provided in advance of travel, while applying for a paper or e-visa; an electronic travel authorization (ETA); or authority to board based on data provided by passengers to airlines as part of the reservation or check-in process.
Clearly, an effective pre-departure travel authorization, as delivered through SITA’s iBorders TravelAuthorization, must therefore include a full visa issuance and management system.
With SITA’s iBorders, visitors and sponsors can apply for e-visas via an online portal, with vetting including eligibility, watch list, identity and immigration status checks, as well as validation of quotas and sponsor registrations.
Functionality also addresses resolution of problem cases, notification of approvals, renewals, extensions, cancellations, sponsor management and more.
ETAs, in the meantime, enhance security by providing governments with an early opportunity to vet visitors from visa waiver countries that are not vetted as part of a visa application.
Crucially, iBorders provides a real-time system that works through the Internet as well as through travel agent and airline systems. It allows visitors to obtain authorization and, in most cases, receive immediate approval.
As regards authority to board, SITA’s implementation of interactive advance passenger information (iAPI) supports real-time denial of boarding based on the latest risk assessment, admissibility status and watch list checks, as well as validation of travel documents against the ETA, visa and passport and other databases.
This allows a government to authorize travel in real time, one passenger at a time, at flight check-in.
In partnership with SITA, the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) pioneered pre-travel authorization with the introduction of the Electronic Travel Authority System (ETAS) in 1996.
Passengers apply for a authorization online or through their airline or travel agent at the time of making their travel reservation, receiving an immediate confirmation.
By providing advance notice of intent to travel, ETAS gives Australia the opportunity to pre-screen travelers against known wanted persons and risk profiles, improving overall security.
ETAS enabled Australia to cope with a huge influx of visitors to the Sydney Olympic Games 2000 without compromising border security or making huge investments in border infrastructure.
On ‘Super Monday’ traffic was more than double the average for that day, and all passengers were processed quickly and efficiently. Today, Australia processes over 2.5 million ETAS transactions a year using iBorders and 3.5 million ETAS queries.
Indeed, the thinking that underpinned ETAS evolved to create the advance passenger processing (APP) system (also known as Interactive Advance Passenger Information System, or i-APIS) implemented by SITA for Australia’s DIAC in 2002.
The Sydney Olympics experience led to the adoption of iBorders by other governments staging big events such as the FIFA World Cup, the Winter Olympics, the Commonwealth Games as well as big religious and cultural events that generate a significant influx of overseas visitors.
APP went one step further by integrating pre-travel authorization into the airline check-in process, allowing Australia to perform additional pre-screening shortly before flight departure, with the ability to authorize or deny the boarding of each traveler in real time.
The use of APP is mandatory in Australia and has been implemented by all airlines flying to the country, with 99.8% of APP transactions taking less than 2.5 seconds – a remarkable achievement given that flights to Australia originate from all over the globe.
In that time the transaction is sent from the check-in location across the SITA network to Australia, where a risk assessment is performed, and the board/no-board directive is returned.
The risk assessment involves various document and visa checks, including watch-list checks as well as checks to ensure that visitors have a valid ETAS.
With boarding approved, the expected arrival of the passenger is reported to DIAC through a direct connection to the border control system. This provides the authorities with more time to check passengers arriving in the country, and to plan any intervention well in advance.
The coverage of the APP System has been progressively expanded by the provision of web-based services, and is now also used for pre-checking of passengers on cruise-ships, and crew on cruise-ships, cargo-ships, and airlines.
APP is used today by 11 governments and more than 130 airlines, processing over 200 million transactions a year.
In helping governments worldwide keep their borders secure, SITA’s iBorders portfolio provides a complete set of capabilities to modernize border security, including pre-travel authorization.
“Pre-approval early in the travel process is a vital component,” says Ebbinghaus. It’s accomplished by iBorders TravelAuthorization, which effectively exports the border to the country of origin allowing authorization on a person-by-person basis. It also reduces the cost and resource involved in processing inadmissible travelers.
“Airlines benefit, too, reducing fines for infringement of border management requirements,” he adds.
From the time that SITA joined with the Australian government to effectively manage the huge numbers of visitors for the Sydney Olympic Games, the company has been at the forefront of border security.
Much has changed in the 20 years since Sydney. And in the next 20 years, passenger numbers are set to double.
“The right range of border management solutions has never been so critical a part of the border equation, not only for today’s security but also to ensure tomorrow’s legitimate visitors are able to arrive and leave simply and effectively.”