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Monday, 29 October, 2018, 11 : 00 AM [IST]

As travel grows, security of personal data takes centrestage

If 2017 has proved anything, it is the resilience of the travel and tourism sector. Despite several natural disasters and terror attacks striking at several prominent tourist destinations last year, the growth in the sector still outpaced the global economy, according to a World Travel and Tourism Council report.

We expect this growth to remain robust, with the sector currently accounting for a sizeable 10.4% of the global GDP. Clearly, millions of people around the world refuse to let upheavals in various socio-economic and geopolitical environments interfere with their travel plans!

Visa application is another strong indicator of foreign travel trends, and VFS Global to has seen an overall steady growth in application count for all the 60 client governments it serves.

More countries today are recognising the economic benefits of opening up their orders for trade and tourism. With the support of technology, everything from visa application to booking hotel rooms or organising city tours has become convenient, instant, and personalised for travellers.

Even though governments are keen to promote tourism, and many others are focused on trade and industry, maintaining border security remains as high a priority as always. Advanced security systems have been channeled for virtually all border and migration processes - biometrics, facial recognition software, surveillance equipment, are today either mandatory or soon to be introduced at several traveller touch-points – consulates, airports, immigration, or visa application centres.

Safety and security are usually highly emotive issues, but these can be addressed with the right measures in place. As passenger traffic continues to grow worldwide, timesaving efficiencies will need to be introduced into security systems, so that the record of travellers can be maintained without delays or hassles for them. Next-generation security systems have the capacity to scale up adequately to track and aid the influx and outflow of people moving around the globe for leisure, education or business.

In visa application, for instance, when biometrics was introduced for visa application for all Schengen member states, there was some apprehension in India on whether it would hinder the timeliness of the application process. However, the transition to biometric enrolment as a mandatory requirement has been entirely seamless – with no real discomfort to applicants since it was first rolled out in 2015. This was due in large part, to the advanced technology that was put in place so that collection of biometric data was well integrated into the application process.

The other development in the security process is the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, earlier this year. With large volumes of personal data of travellers being captured at various stages of travel, this new regulation ensures there are more safeguards in place and a higher level of transparency in how such data is processed.

For the travel-related businesses - hotels, or airlines, or visa service providers – this may mean data protection frameworks will have to be put in place in areas where personal data is being handled, in case such legislation impacts any of these organisations.

As a company that handles large volumes of applicant information (for visas and citizen services), VFS Global is one of just 15% of global companies that are GDPR-compliant (as per a Capgemini report published in May 2018). From when an application is submitted online or over the counter, to the point that the passport is handed over to the applicant, all our infrastructure, processes, and services are designed according to stringent norms applied consistently across our network. This involves taking an uncompromising approach towards maintaining robust security frameworks, not to mention the investment involved – vital requirements in the current digital fabric of e-commerce and high-speed telecommunications in the travel industry.

Focusing on technology, innovation, and customer convenience while at the same time investing in upgrading security systems on these platforms on a regular basis, will allow businesses to keep abreast with the hectic growth we will continue to witness in this sector.

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