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The Rise of Digital Travel Credential in Seamless Journeys

Written By: Kenny Ching, Head of Citizen Identity for Asia Pacific, HID


The movement of people and goods, which continues to expand, is creating challenges for border security as risks evolve and enforcement goals becoming increasingly complex. Adding to that is the demand of the modern traveller who no longer tolerates being stuck in long queues at security checkpoints and expects a seamless journey from departure to arrival.

Fortunately, the travel industry is at the forefront of digital innovation and continues to be transformed by new technologies in almost every aspect of its operations.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a digital travel credential or DTC is a digital representation of the traveller’s physical document, which can temporarily or permanently substitute a conventional passport. The DTC would operate in a similar way to the ePassport within the travel continuum and can be validated using the established public key infrastructure.

In this article, we will delve into the concept of DTC, explore the different types of DTC, discuss the major advantages of DTC adoption, and underscore the pivotal role DTC is poised to play in shaping the future of seamless travel.

Understanding Digital Travel Credentials

Digital travel credentials are stored securely in a wallet app. This evolution in travel documentation aims to enhance and streamline the travel experience, reduce reliance on physical paperwork, and induce security measures.

According to ICAO, the current security of the electronic machine-readable travel document or eMRTD results from the ability to verify the consistency of the data between the physical and the electronic document. The digitised data stored on the chip is identical to the printed information (the exception being the optional secondary biometrics and some special data groups) and ties the data on the chip to the holder of the document through a process of matching the primary biometric to the presenter of the passport.

“Fortunately, the travel industry is at the forefront of digital innovation and continues to be transformed by new technologies in almost every aspect of its operations.”

To ensure integrity and authenticity can be validated to the same level of security as an eMRTD, the DTC approach is based on a hybrid concept in which the DTC will consist of a virtual component (DTC-VC) containing the digital representation of the holder’s identity and one physical component (DTC-PC) that is cryptographically linked to the virtual component.

Three Types of DTC Implementation

The DTC can be implemented in three types:

  • Type 1: eMRTD bound DTC. This consists of a DTC-VC only, with the eMRTD as a physical authenticator: The traveller must have their physical eMRTD (passport booklet) in their possession while travelling.
  • Type 2: eMRTD-PC bound. This consists of DTV-VC and an DTC-PC in addition to the eMRTD: The physical device serves as the DTC-PC, with the eMRTD as the alternate or as a fallback; the traveller should have their physical eMRTD in their possession while traveling.
  • Type 3: PC bound. This consists of a DTC-VC and a DTC-PC but no eMRTD: Only the physical device will serve as the DTC-PC; there is no need for the traveller to carry his or her physical passport booklet while travelling.

Efficiency and Convenience

While security and interoperability are vital, the main drivers for DTC are efficiency and convenience.

Clearly, quick passage through a border is more convenient for the traveller but the DTC will also mean that physical documents do not need to be presented as regularly through the travel process. The processes of revocation and emergency travel authorisation will be made simpler and more convenient in the event of loss or theft of a document. While visa acquisition, presentation and authentication processes can be further digitised and made more convenient.

Ongoing Challenges

There are ongoing challenges facing DTC if it were to attain widespread adoption in the future. These include:

  • Interoperability. Achieving global interoperability remains a significant challenge for DTC. Different countries may adopt varying standards and technologies, which could lead to compatibility issues. Establishing a universally accepted standard for DTC is paramount to ensuring seamless integration across borders.
  • Security concerns. While DTC aims to enhance security, concerns regarding data breaches and unauthorised access persist. Robust encryption and authentication protocols are crucial to safeguarding sensitive traveller information and preventing identity theft.
  • Technological barriers. The widespread adoption of DTC relies on accessible and reliable technology. Ensuring that travellers, regardless of their technological proficiency or access to devices, can easily access and use DTC is essential for broad acceptance.

The Vital Role of DTC in Seamless Travel

As we look into the future, DTC is poised to play a crucial role in shaping a seamless travel experience for citizens and travellers. The convenience DTC offers in terms of speed, efficiency and reduced paperwork is matched only by the enhanced security measures it brings to the table.

Efficiency at borders will be improved by sharing the DTC virtual component in advance of travel, so that the receiving country will already have a passenger’s data upon arrival. This will allow the relevant risk assessments to be performed ahead of time. More importantly for efficiency, it will speed the travellers’ passage through the border by reducing inspection times.

As technologies continue to advance, and as global standards for interoperability are established, the widespread adoption of DTC will become a cornerstone of the modern travel industry.

The journey towards seamless travel is intricately linked to the development of DTC. The digital transformation of travel documentation is paving the way for a more efficient, secure and interconnected global travel landscape.

“As we look into the future, DTC is poised to play a crucial role in shaping a seamless travel experience for citizens and travellers.”

While challenges persist, ongoing technological advancements and collaborative efforts between governments, and industry stakeholders are steering us towards a future where the phrase “seamless travel” becomes synonymous with the seamless integration of DTC.