Still, research from the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group suggests that biometric identification will only become more prevalent as accuracy improves, eventually giving rise to a “fully automated” check-in, security, border-control and smart-visa system that could improve security and whittle down long lines at airports and borders.
“Check-in for a flight would be expedited by replacing paper documents with an electronic passport,” explains a summary of the innovations laid out in the report, “as well as biometric traveler identification through fingerprints, facial recognition, or an iris scan.”
Hotels, too, are embracing technology and not simply by placing iPads in their rooms and lobbies. One of the most eager to adopt biometrics is the Ushuaa Ibiza Beach Hotel. If you think an island vacation ought to consist of a quiet afternoon sprawled on a beach towel and unplugged from the world, don’t bother making a reservation there.
Last year, the hotel was using wristbands with radio frequency identification technology, or RFID, which relies on electromagnetic waves, to allow guests to instantly update their Facebook status by swiping the bands against sensors around the property. New this year: biometrics status updates. Guests input their fingerprints at kiosks and from then on, sensors in the “Facebook pillars” around the property allow them to tap two fingers to update their status with messages like, “Hanging out at the Ushuaa Ibiza Beach Hotel … Jealous?”
Guests can also pay for their mojitos with their fingerprints. Registering for a cash-free payment system called PayTouch enables guests to buy anything they like — again, with a tap of two fingertips. To use the system, you input your credit card information and your fingerprints into a registration kiosk, and PayTouch links your prints to your card. Voila, you’re able to buy food, drinks (yes, at the swim-up bar) and souvenirs by swiping your fingertips not only throughout the resort but also at local bars, restaurants and shops.
These sorts of high-tech amenities (which travelers who are concerned about privacy don’t have to use) are not just emerging in far-flung Saturnalias. One of the most prominent players in travel technology is Walt Disney World Resorts, which has been using finger recognition scanners at its park entrances for more than a decade. The finger scanners associate you with your ticket (a plastic card) the first time you use it, which the company said is to help to prevent fraud and make it easier to re-enter the parks. (You can opt out, though, and show photo identification instead.) The card is also your room key and a charge account if you so choose.
But something new is on the horizon: Disney is testing — and later this year will begin rolling out — “MagicBands” at Disney World: radio frequency technology-enabled wristbands that when flicked across mouse ear “touch points” throughout the resort allow you to unlock your room, enter the theme parks, use FastPasses and PhotoPasses, and pay for meals and merchandise (the latter is optional). You can read more about the radio frequency technology and your privacy at Disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Used in conjunction with the My Disney Experience website and app, the wristbands will also help personalize various other aspects of your theme park experience. For example, you could register online for a meet-and-greet with a Disney character and input your child’s name. Then, as you approach that character in the park, the MagicBand enables little Bobby or Ella to be greeted by name. Later, the kids can breeze back into the hotel room using their wristbands, never having to ask Mom or Dad for help unlocking the door.
Then again, couldn’t they also go buy themselves $500 worth of Disney memorabilia? As it turns out, no. A PIN will be required for all purchases, and parents can set a spending limit on children’s bands, ensuring that the magic goes only so far.