The COVID-19 pandemic has grounded travelers and crippled economies, but it hasn’t stopped innovation. As the world maps out a road to recovery, here are 10 predictions for what travel might look like in the next decade.
1. AI soars into aviation
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution upon us, we do not doubt that AI pilots, customer service chatbots, VR entertainment, real-time baggage tracking, and highly personalized inflight experiences will become the norm by 2030. These changes are already in motion. Many airlines, including Cathay Pacific and Iberia, offer sophisticated chatbots, while Singapore Airlines provides KrisPay, a digital blockchain wallet.
Though AI pilots are less common – the US Air Force’s U2 Dragon Lady spy plane just made history in December, when an artificial intelligence co-pilot flew a military plane for the first time – the autonomous aircraft market should hit US$23.7 billion by 2030. We’d be surprised if AI pilots and co-pilots weren’t in the cockpits of commercial jets in the next 10 years.
2. Immunity or bust
As vaccination programs kick off worldwide, our eligibility to travel may come down to a digital health or “immunity” passport to prove one has been vaccinated. In December, Aruba became the first country to adopt a digital health passport platform – and we expect many more to follow.
IATA is in the final stages of developing a digital vaccine passport for travelers, the IATA Travel Pass, which would let travelers share their COVID-19 testing or vaccine information with airlines and border authorities, via a contactless passport app. CommonPass, backed by the World Economic Forum, provides a similar service. Domestically, China and Macao have already introduced digital health check systems, which assign a color (green, yellow or red) based on your presumed risk level.
While nations have yet to reach a global standard, it is only a matter of time before health records become a requisite for travel in the coming years. What’s more, since the virus may mutate year after year – or more pandemics may emerge – such certificates could be here to stay for the foreseeable future.
3. Goodbye, physical passports
As biometric technology, such as facial recognition and fingerprints, becomes more integrated into immigration procedures worldwide, it is only a matter of time before we retire our physical passports. We’ve seen glimpses of the future in Australia and the UAE where contactless facial biometric gateways and “smart tunnels” enable pre-screened travelers to pass through immigration without pulling out their physical passports.
But in the next 10 years, we expect to see the end of paper-based documentation. What will we use instead? Enter digital “unique passenger identification” records, such as IATA’s One ID, a document-free process based on identity management and biometric recognition. These passports of the future will most likely take the form of a digital identity that’s cryptographically sealed on the blockchain, a secure decentralized ledger, and accessed via a unique digital ‘fingerprint’. This means fast and more convenient immigration, plus no chance of theft or forgery.
4. One passport won’t suffice
Citizenship and residence by investment programs have only grown more popular during the pandemic, as high-net-worth individuals seek greater flexibility, mobility and freedom. And in the future, one passport simply won’t cut it. A desire to hedge against future health, economic, political, environmental and social crises isn’t going anywhere.
With failing economies and fears of recessions, even the citizens of historically wealthy, stable countries like the US have seen citizens snapping up a backup Plan B or two. During the pandemic, destinations like the Caribbean – where well-insulated islands seem like safe havens – and Europe have been popular. Looking ahead, we expect to see an uptick in interest in places like Montenegro, which is on the waiting list to join the EU, and Bulgaria, which is currently in the process of joining the Schengen area.
5. CIPs take off
The number of countries offering a second residency or citizenship by investment programs will boom in the next 10 years. Such programs tend to emerge after catastrophes since they are seen as an easy, efficient and safe way for countries to recover from financial crises, develop ambitious real estate projects and create new jobs.
Additionally, many programs – particularly those in the EU – will most likely see changes in terms of due diligence and residential requirements. In the EU, for instance, we predict that future programs will emphasize greater transparency and connection with the community, be that through language skills, minimum time spent on the ground, or job creation.
6. The rise of e-Residencies and virtual immigrants
While only elite travelers will have the means to invest in CIP, we expect other global citizens of all income levels to take advantage of residency programs. With remote work now the norm thanks to COVID-19 shifts, e-Residencies – like Estonia’s pioneering program – will likely see higher demand from entrepreneurs, digital nomads, freelancers, and startups this decade.
Such programs will be pivotal in attracting a new generation of remote workers who can work from anywhere. What’s more, measures like digital work permits could be assigned remotely to allow “virtual immigrants’’ to start working remotely while awaiting visa clearance and entry permits. This would give all parties – government, employers, workers and their families – the flexibility to deal with unexpected disruptions and delays, while simultaneously supporting local economies.
7. Open sesame: World openness to double
Before the pandemic, the World Openness Score reached an all-time high of 54% (21,360). In 2020, we witnessed a drop to 39% (15,400) due to COVID-19 restrictions, but we predict a V-shaped rebound coming around the corner around 2023. And in the next 10 years, we expect the World Openness Score to nearly double to around 75% of the world.
Bilateral visa-free agreements around the world – a trend that already emerged pre-COVID – will fuel the renewed mobility. In the past five years, more countries signed visa-free agreements than ever in history. And as we eventually return to normality and diplomatic relations are restored, we expect this trend to pick up right where it left off.
8. Apply for eVisas on your phone
As visa-free agreements soar in the future, so too will eVisa and ETAs. We predict that countries will drop physical printed visas and visas on arrivals and opt for digital visas instead. This will create a faster, more convenient, more secure and overall, more accessible travel experience.
The need for health requirements in the coming months and years will likely accelerate this trend. Essentially, since health certificates will be stored in a mobile wallet or app, it’s likely that visas can be bundled together in one place. Digitizing visas also opens the door for more opportunities – think fully digital visa application services and approval processes on your mobile phone.
9. All eyes on Africa
Within the next decade, we foresee countries in Africa dramatically increasing their passport power and mobility as the 55 member-state African Union inches closer to its Agenda 2063 goals. Similar to the European Union, the African Union aims to envision ‘an integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance’.
For those who hold the African Union passport – which has been in use since 2016 – this vision includes visa-free travel across the member states, the freedom to move and work without restrictions, and a wellspring of new personal and business opportunities. It is not a fully mobile continent, yet, but we expect to see much progress on this front by 2030.
10. Traveler experience redefined
During the downturn in 2020, many airlines reimagined what flights of the future could be like. To get travelers back in the air, they’ll need to improve the passenger experience, prioritizing automatic technology that reduces physical touchpoints at every step in the journey. We will also see automatic ultraviolet cabin cleaning systems; flexible seating and sleeping configurations; beautiful open-air, green spaces in airports; unlimited Wi-Fi; greater booking flexibility; live TV and gaming inflight; and more personalized inflight meals.
Mobile apps will be another key ingredient, offering the ability to shop inflight and track your bags, order meals, stream your favorite shows, access real-time translation services, and take advantage of wellness practices. A few airlines are already dabbling in these spaces, from Etihad Airways’ new Jet Lag Adviser app to Qatar Airways’ UV cleaning system, and Southwest Airlines’s touchless inflight entertainment system.
Have you read the 2021 Passport Index Report?
As countries progressively begin to reopen their borders and renew visa bans, the 2020 Passport Index Report reveals what rock-bottom for global mobility looked like during a worldwide pandemic, which countries remained at the top of the ranks and which slipped far below, as well as what to expect moving forward as the planet experiences a global reset.
Find the full report, here.