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Digitally transforming travel starts with the ‘gold standard’ Digital Travel Credential (DTC)


Everyone wants to use digital identity to speed up travel. But we need to tread carefully as an industry. To meet the needs and legal requirement of governments, passengers and airlines, there’s really only one way forward. That’s why the focus now is on digital travel credentials built around decentralized identity technology, and ICAO’s Digital Travel Credential (DTC) standard.  

Why we need to get Digital Travel right, everywhere  

If we get Digital Travel right, we can properly address the issues facing travel. The rise of passenger numbers to over 19 billion by 2041, for one thing. The need for airlines and airports to do better with current resources, and rising traveler expectations for digital experiences with no long lines at airports. On top of that come critically important data privacy and security issues, particularly around biometrics. These add new layers of complexity and cost.  

Digital travel credentials using decentralized identity technology provide the kind of identity assurance that meets government requirements for proof of identity, and they allow international border crossing. They let passengers hold and control their data in digital wallets; and they can be quickly added to any and every airport system to tackle today’s travel industry issues.  

At the same time, credentials made in the right way, allow new services to be seamlessly integrated into a passenger’s journey – like hotels, rental cars, trains, or cruises.  That’s true digital travel, beyond the airport! 

Not all DTCs are created equal 

The power of decentralized identity comes from the way it changes how we create, hold, protect, share, and verify any kind of digital information. But not all ‘digital travel credentials’ are actually Digital Travel Credentials. So look out for the term ‘Credential’. Not Certificate, or Card. Nor anything else in that vein, as these will not provide the digital transformation required by airlines, airports, and the tourism industry at large. Digital Travel rests on the use of ICAO’s DTC standard – the ‘gold standard’ for our industry. See ‘The true story about Digital Travel Credentials (DTCs)’. 

The world’s first true DTC 

SITA and our strategic partner Indicio successfully deployed the world’s first DTC (based on the first ICAO standard) in March 2023 in Aruba. Passengers derived DTCs from their passports. They used them to get pre-approval for travel to the island, and then used them again to cross the border in seconds by simply looking into a SITA FacePod. This DTC is now being integrated by multiple global airlines – and Aruba plans to use its DTC to get travelers through immigration and to the beach in 30 minutes. 

Checklist for true ‘gold standard DTC’ 

  1. Real DTC is a ‘government-grade’ digital identity. That means governments can be sure it’s taken from an authentic physical passport. It tells them the bearer of a DTC is the person described by the DTC. It allows governments to pre-approve travel and know in advance who’s arriving in their country. They can automate entry using verified biometrics and don’t have to rely on manual checking. This greatly speeds up entry to a country. It’s more accurate and frees up border resources.
  2. Real DTC means that passengers benefit by effectively being pre-cleared long before they board their flight. It reduces airport waiting time and anxiety. The identity assurance provided by a DTC means that airports can be decluttered of touchpoints that rely on manual ID checking.
  3. Real DTC, combined with a trusted Digital Travel Ecosystem, lets passengers hold their passport data in a secure digital credential and easily consent to share it. Or they can share selected information from the credential, in what the industry calls ‘privacy-preserving ways’. There are some who think this is impossible, but they’re wrong. The approach frees airlines and airports from having to securely store and manage passenger personal data in centralized databases, which is costly, risky, and increasingly a data privacy compliance nightmare.
  4. Real DTC means that airlines can be sure that every passenger boarding an aircraft has been approved to arrive at their destination, which improves security and reduces the risk of costly fines.  

A giant step forward! A better passenger experience with better security 

If our industry approaches digital identities in this way, we can be sure that airlines, airports, governments, and passengers benefit greatly from all of these streamlined operations. Yet as an industry we’ll still meet the increasingly stringent regulations around data privacy. This is critical. Suddenly, we can declutter multiple layers of complexity, improve passenger experiences, and do more and better with fewer resources.   

That’s why a real DTC changes the game. Anything less does not, and should be regarded as imitation. So again, look for the word ‘Credential’.  

With a privacy-preserving digital identity that governments trust – one which can work on any system, anywhere – you don’t just solve the travel issues we face today. You can also build in features, options and services for passengers that would, otherwise, be too difficult to develop and manage. For example: 

  • You can solve loyalty card fraud 
  • You can add in car hire and taxis 
  • You can add in hotels 
  • You can add in payments
  • You can improve disruption management with verified credentials
  • And you can develop premium personalization through consent 

ICAO’s DTC is, in effect, a passport to a secure, GDPR privacy-compliant network of verifiable identity and data. This is one of the most important innovations in our industry for decades, and a giant step forward in modernizing travel for the years ahead. 

The true story about Digital Travel Credentials (DTCs) 

A true Digital Travel Credential (DTC) is something specific. It’s a specification created by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It’s what the digital equivalent of a passport must look like, how it must improve security and protect the passenger’s personal data, and how it must be interoperable to be a solution that can be used globally. 

There will be three kinds of ICAO DTC specifications. The first, known as DTC Type 1, is a DTC derived by a passenger from their passport. Passengers use software in their phone to read and take in the digital information in the passport chip.  

This is cryptographically verified against ICAO’s database of passport issuers to make sure it’s a real passport and also hasn’t been reported as missing or stolen. Biometric and liveness checks at the time of creation ensure that the person creating the DTC is the same person in the passport.   

A second type of DTC is the originating passport office issuing a DTC. This second standard, known as DTC Type 2 or ‘Authority Derived Credential’, is still a few years away from implementation. And finally, there’s DTC Type 3 where there is no paper based passport – only digital - which could be a couple of decades into the future.

Have any questions? Get in touch. SITA’s experts have the answers.

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