“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

— Isaac Newton

The world is on the move. People from across the globe are travelling more than ever before. By 2030, a global population of 8.5 billion people will take nearly 2 billion international trips. Most of the growth will come from outside the United States – in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Travel drives economic growth and job opportunities – it’s good for my company’s business – and it promotes peace and understanding across cultures.

But all this increased travel is taking place in an antiquated system built in the 1960s – and the strain on the system shows. Today, more than 1.2 billion international travellers go to great costs and lengths to obtain a visa, waste time waiting in lines, all with old-fashioned paper documents in hand. We face new challenges that can’t be addressed by legacy systems. The real threats – like terrorism and disease – go beyond borders and the ability of any one country to control.

We cannot confront these modern challenges with medieval tactics like building walls to separate us. With modern technologies and the right tools, we can construct a new framework for the future of travel to keep us connected and make us all safer.

Digital authentication

The right to travel should be based on who you are, not where you were born or the colour of your passport. The current system is outdated; it’s not just unfair, it’s inefficient. Over the past decade, we’ve seen would-be terrorists travelling with passports from countries long seen as low risk.

We are beginning to move to a future where travel is facilitated by your digital identity, built with unique biometrics and “pushed” out to governments and companies, with permission, to ease travel. The private sector can – and already is – helping to build these capabilities, through innovative companies working on completely digital passports and visas. But we need to move faster.

Biometrics need to be regularly collected so that global citizens can travel and engage more seamlessly in countries around the world. India’s ambitious countrywide biometric collection programme passed the 1 billion mark in April 2016 and is beginning to serve as a model for other forward-thinking countries.

Privacy is paramount and customers have the right to “own” their digital identity and decide which governments and companies to share it with, and in exchange for sharing more personal data, travellers will experience safer, more streamlined travel.

Global communication

Governments will also need to adopt new policies that enable greater information and data-sharing across national borders. Building these digital bridges will enable security agencies to integrate many disparate national systems and better protect their borders and citizens by allowing them to focus resources on the true threats. Many countries have already taken steps to increase information-sharing with trusted allies and partners. We need to build off of the success of existing bilateral and regional verified traveller programmes (like the UK’s Registered Traveller Service or TSA Pre-Check in the United States) to create a truly global system. Governments would have access to more and better information through a new integrated platform.

Such digital integration will also allow countries to use the data to assess a traveller’s level of “risk”, perhaps through a system similar to how a credit score assesses a borrower’s financial risk. More accurate information will enable governments to more effectively pre-vet the majority of passengers and devote more resources to identify and vet travellers who require further investigation. According to Interpol, between 2002 and 2013 almost 40 million travel documents were reported as lost or stolen. False and stolen passports are often linked to terrorists and criminals. Moving to a fully digital process built on biometrics will help to protect and verify a traveller’s identity and significantly reduce the risk of stolen papers falling into the wrong hands.

Revolutionizing the way we travel beyond our national borders won’t be easy. It will require governments working together with the best the private sector has to offer in order to build a secure, successful system that citizens will use and trust. But if we’re going to get the world ready for 1.8 billion international travellers in a little over a decade, we’ll need to disrupt the status quo and work together to erect smart bridges, not outdated walls.

Read the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 here.