Travellers prioritise speed and convenience; embracing biometrics and off-airport processes

26 October, 2023

Air travellers continue to prioritise speed and convenience and are increasingly embracing biometrics and off-airport processes to deliver it, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The results of its 2023 Global Passenger Survey (GPS) show passengers “want to spend less time booking and move through the airport faster. And they are increasingly willing to use biometric data to complete more pre-departure tasks off airport to achieve this,” according to Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.

The GPS results are based on over 8,000 responses from more than 200 countries.

Passengers want convenience when they plan their travel

Among the key findings were that passengers want convenience when they plan their travel and when choosing from where to depart. Their preference is to fly from an airport close to home, have all booking options and services available in one single place and pay with their preferred payment method.

Proximity to the airport was passengers’ main priority when choosing their departure point (71%). This was more important than ticket price (31%).

A small majority of passengers prefer to book directly with the airline (52%). Regardless of booking channel used however, they would like to have complete visibility into the fare offer including easy access to optional products and services.

Travellers expect ‘same online experience as they get from major online retailers’

“Today’s travellers expect the same online experience as they get from major online retailers,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Financial Settlement and Distribution Services.

And progress is being made. When a modern airline retailing solution is fully realised, travellers will be able to track their air travel purchases with a single order number— “simple and fast,” says Mr Albakri. This will also greatly simplify reaccommodating travellers in the event of a change or a disruption, a major pain point in the customer experience.

Payment selection based on convenience…

Convenience is the main reason passengers choose a particular payment method (62%). Among seven different payment methods, the most popular was credit / debit card (73%), followed by digital wallet (18%) and bank transfer (18%).

At the same time, the IATA research shows there are very wide regional variations in credit card usage. Credit / debit cards are most popular in Latin America (85%), Europe (81%) and North America (74%) with the lowest preference being in Africa (57%).

Digital wallet penetration is most popular in the Asia Pacific region, where 41% of respondents cited this as the preferred option. The next highest market was Europe (15%) followed by Middle East (14%).

Among the regions, direct bank transfer was the most preferred payment method in Africa (36%), followed by the Middle East (21%).

Payment issues cited by respondents included the inability to use their preferred option or to pay in installments; others cited a tedious payment process and concerns over payment security. Furthermore, 25% of potential product/services sales during the customer journey could not be eventually completed because of payment issues.

…and customers want to use their preferred option

“Payment needs to be seen as part of the commercial offer and not just as a financial transaction at the end of the sale,” said Mr Albakri.

“Customers want to be able to use their preferred payment method with convenience and security. Each market is different and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. If a preferred payment method is not available or too complicated, the potential sale may be lost,” he added.

Complex visa requirements are deterring travel

Complex visa requirements are deterring travellers who want a convenient, digital online visa process. Moreover, many are willing to share their immigration information for faster airport immigration procedures, according to IATA.

The survey found more than a third of travellers (36%) have been discouraged from travelling to a particular destination because of the immigration requirements. Process complexity was highlighted as the main deterrent by 49% of travellers, 19% cited costs and 8% privacy concerns.

Where visas are required, 66% of travellers want to obtain a visa online prior to travel, 20% prefer to go to the consulate or embassy and 14% at the airport.

87% of travellers indicated they would share their immigration information to speed up the airport arrival process, representing an increase from the 83% reported in 2022.

"Time-consuming and complex visa requirements deter travellers and deprive destination economies of valuable tourist revenues,” said Mr Careen, yet “time and again, we have seen that when countries remove visa requirements, economies prosper from rising visitor numbers,” he added.

Beyond simplified visa procedures, travellers are now increasingly prepared to share their immigration information if it results in faster and smoother airport processes, according to the IATA executive. “Taking advantage of traveller willingness to use online processes and share information in advance is always a win-win solution,” he added.

Passengers expect streamlined processes and minimal airport wait times

At the airport, speed is of the essence. Passengers expect streamlined processes and minimal wait times. There are increasingly keen on using biometrics to expedite procedures, prefer to complete more processes off-site, and arrive at the airport ready to fly.

The survey results show passengers expect to move through the airport faster than ever. 74% stated that when traveling with only a carry-on bag, they anticipate going from the curb to the boarding gate in 30 minutes or less, an increase from 54% in 2022.

Passengers also want to complete more processing elements off-airport. 45% of travellers identified immigration as their top pick for off-airport processing. This was up from 32% in 2022. Check-in was the second most popular pick at 33%, followed by baggage check-in (19%). And 91% of passengers are interested in a special programme for trusted travellers (background checks) to expedite security screening.

Passengers seek flexibility and control of baggage process…

Passengers want more flexibility and more control in the baggage process. 67% would be interested in home pick-up and delivery, 77% said they would be likely to check in a bag if they could tag it and check it in before they get to the airport and 87% would be willing to check in a bag if they could track it. Also, interest in self-tracking is growing: 57% of travellers have used or want to use electronic bag tags, up from 50% in 2022.

…and have growing confidence in biometric identification solutions

Confidence in biometric identification is on the rise. “Passengers want technology to work harder, so they spend less time ‘being processed’, standing in queues. And they are willing to use biometric data if it delivers this result,” said Mr Careen.

In the last 12 months, 46% of passengers used biometrics at the airport, up from 34% in 2022, according to the IATA findings. Furthermore, 75% of passengers prefer using biometric data over traditional passports and boarding passes. Of those who've used biometric identification during their travels, 46% reported an 85% satisfaction rate.

While data protection remains a concern for half of the travellers, 40% would be more open to biometric solutions if they were confident that their personal information is secure – an increase from 33% in 2022.