A new report, released by the World Economic Forum this summer, in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, titled “Connected World: Hyperconnected Travel and Transportation in Action” forecasts the future of changing global travel. According to the report, the lack of private sector cooperation, bipartisan consensus, and global standards currently hinder the progress of seamless travel and transport. The report notes four key areas that can help to overcome this difficulty through the integration of technology we already have, future traffic management systems for major metropolises, a modernized visa, advanced airport security and border control processes, as well as high-tech logistics optimization.

José Viegas, Secretary-General of the International Transport Forum at the OECD says, “The digitalization of everything is changing transport in ways we are only beginning to fathom. But transport should go beyond adaptation, it should leverage innovations produced in engineering and organizational sciences. If it combines them into innovative, effective patterns, it can once more change the way the world is functioning.” International travel has boomed in the last 20 years, with an increasing global middle class with access to leisure time. Additionally, international trade has increased with the shrinking cost of transportation. According to the report, international trade and outsourcing has grown at a rate faster than the global GDP and is expected to continue, with world merchandise trade forecasted to grow 8 percent per year through 2030, greatly outpacing GDP. The world has also seen the dramatic rise of smartphone communication, further connecting the global network and with advances in the Internet of Things, this could soon extend to cars and other infrastructure systems. In fact, estimates show that 90 percent of all new cars will be able to communicate with infrastructure systems by 2025.

Advances with Integrated Proactive Intermodal Travel Assistant (IPITA) will allow travelers to use a single ticket per journey, regardless of the destination or mode of transport, as well as give real-time updates to changing travel plans. “There’s a great opportunity for the private sector and public agencies to work together to make this a widespread reality,” says Margo Geogiadis, President of Americas Operations at Google. Automated check-in, security, border control, and smart visas (ACIS) can streamline the difficulties of international travel, helping dramatically decrease the customs process while retaining high levels of security and information privacy for the traveler. Advances in IPITA development will also allow smart devices to be integrated into the travel process, providing real-time updates directly to data glasses or contact lenses as displays. Meanwhile, transparency and traceability for logistics optimization (TATLO) can help integrate the flow of information between companies and governments into a streamlined process, allowing trade to flow more efficiently, less expensively, and more securely.

The possibilities for Electronic Visas and Smart Airports are limitless and they each hold the potential to completely reinvent our perception of the airport. The report estimates that improving visa efficiency could generate an additional $40-$200 billion in new tourism receipts by 2015. These smart visas can use biometric identification, pre-interviews, and e-visas to create an entirely digital visa application process for international business and leisure travel. They could use risk-based screening, allowing border control to assess past travel patterns to gauge potential threats or efficient full-body scanners, reducing lines at security, as well as automated, biometric boarding identification to streamline the check-in process. In 2013, Dubai International Airport began using smart counters and e-gates with biometric identification based on iris, fingerprint, and face recognition and saw the immigration time drop to less than 20 seconds per low-risk passenger (who already have preregistered, passing biometrics). Broadening these practices can allow travelers to enjoy reduced travel time and cost, help public authorities prevent crime, terrorism, and smuggling more efficiently and effectively, as well as help private companies that might handle security clearances at airports. Hesitant governments must understand that online visa applications are secure, fast, and efficient, and these advancements can be directly correlated with an increase in travel and trade. According to the report, this magnitude can increase travel volumes by up to 25 percent.

Another important problem concerning the infrastructure of tomorrow, the traffic management of growing cities is quickly becoming a key issue already in many booming metropolises. To combat this problem, condition-based megacity traffic management (COMET) systems will provide real-time traffic analytics, from infrastructure and vehicle sensors to real-time analytics and smart parking, advanced COMET integration can alert drivers of any difficulties hindering their transit to make their travel as efficient as possible.

In 2010, the Hong Kong Government initiated the Route 8 project, which attempted to improve traffic conditions and reduce congestion within Hong Kong’s dense streets. The program tracked major highway usage and used the information to adjust speed limits and toll prices to reflect periods of intensive use. They also worked to integrate wireless communication capabilities with road signs, display boards, and mobile phones to help increase the cities roadway efficiency.

In another instance, Brazil’s Operations Centre in Rio de Janeiro used similar information to reduce traffic jams with restricted access and intelligent steering. COMET would connect public authorities with the right technology and infrastructure service providers to maximize the efficiency for the end user. COMET operators would receive data in real-time from users, infrastructure operators, and other external sources and use these sources to adjust toll prices and route alternative directions to drivers. However, the COMET system has to mediate a governing collaboration between public and private parties to integrate the required procedures. Local preferences must also be considered when selecting features to implement, such as tolling, which naturally raises significant opposition. COMET systems must also be sensitive to managing data, with clearly defined standards on data collection, storage, and use. Overall, COMET has a huge potential to improve the infrastructure of the cities of tomorrow, as long as the public and private sector can come together for the public good.

Another innovation, the integrated proactive intermodal travel assistant (IPITA), can dramatically cut down on costs on individuals in the estimated $3-9 billion squandered annually because of travel delays and cancellations in the U.S. IPITA is a mobile tool that “integrates planning, booking, and ticketing across all means of travel and transportation”, reducing delays and making travel faster and more efficient. IPITA would also be able to book travel plans directly from data glasses or contact-lens displays. Early studies at Google have introduced new features integrating Google Transit—which manages public transit with Google Maps, providing real-time traffic updates for many cities—and Google Glass, their wearable eyeglass-mounted displays. IPITA would work to integrate transportation providers with advertisers, data providers, and, ultimately, travelers to ensure their trip was as cheap and convenient as possible. It could also work together between private sector competitors to establish a global standard, further passing discounts down to the consumer.

Another innovation, the Tracking and Transparency-based Logistics Optimizer (TATLO) could use real-time information exchange between companies and governments to speed up trade. Shippers would pay for TATLO increasing their efficiency and transparency with the supply chain and reducing costs through each step of the process. However, there are challenges; setting up this complex system requires cooperation among many different private-sector parties, as well as standardizing data formats so all parties can share information with ease. Global shipping customs must also work to standardize trade regulations to make this possible and data security must be carefully managed as well. TATLO’s B2B and B2G would work to solve these issues by digitizing and automating all trade information. eCustoms and eFreight initiatives can also help solve these issues within the EU’s current, partially unified customs system.

By aligning future traffic management systems, modernized visa systems, advanced airport security and border control processes, and high-tech logistics optimization, we will see huge progress in the next level efficiency for the city of tomorrow.

This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier's September/October 2014 print edition.

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.