When traveling through airports, we need to show our passport for inspection before being granted entry into our destination country. Easy does it! Or can it get any easier?
Just as a physical passport provides ease of movement, imagine the convenience of having your own digital identity “passport” you can present every time you want to access a new online service, without providing all the usual personal information and creating a username, password, and other authentication factors.
What does that look like? Does this already exist in travel? Let’s get moving to find out.
The starting point for standardized online identities
While the online world generally does not require standardized physical documents, identity-proofing and authentication of our own identity online are becoming inevitably more complex as we try to access a huge number of different services and benefits without any direct, in-person interaction. And, as travel becomes increasingly integrated with the digital world, such a solution will offer many benefits.
Here is where challenges start to arise as we leverage credentials created by one system for use on another to access these multiple services.
Why is this so hard?
How to move to one single online ID
We can answer this question looking at today’s fragmented online identity situation. To gain access to various online services, we must re-verify ourselves each time we sign up for a new company’s service. Depending on the complexity of that effort, the experience may be touchless but certainly not frictionless. Sound familiar?
Digging deeper, we find at the root of this challenge two important connected considerations: trust and incentive. Illustrated by the passport example: an issuing country has the incentive to allow its citizens to travel to other countries, and both countries have agreed on the operating conditions for the passport – so there is mutual trust.
To help establish the basis for such trust in the digital world as well, it’s crucial to have a solid digital identity ecosystem working in synergy. Let’s have a look at who are the main stakeholders and their roles here.
Public sector Includes eGovernment, Law Enforcement, Regulation
Role: Governments and public providers create and manage digital identities and supervise the systems around them. They help to create a consolidated and interactive range of solutions.
Private sector Includes businesses in Finance, Banking, IT, Utilities, Telecommunications, ecommerce
Role: Private stakeholders offer additional services in the domain of digital identities and ensure that the market remains innovative, comprehensive, and competitive.
Citizen For ePassport, eServices, eID, eHealth
Role: A user-centric approach ensures that we are empowered by digital identities. Our privacy must be protected, and we should have full control over our personal data.
The crucial central and connecting element between all stakeholders is the technology including IoT, mobile devices, biometrics, AI and more. Innovative technology is the key enabler of secure and seamless journeys using digital identities. While the specific tools may change, technology will always remain at the center of the ecosystem.
Moving into the digital identity home
Before aligned trust between the stakeholders can exist, there’s a need for – here it is again – an incentive for the various parties, followed by “seeing is believing” for the ultimate proof.
While this still gives the impression of the “chicken and the egg” situation, it essentially means that once it’s more convenient for us to manage and reuse our identity credentials like passports, the more confident we’ll become to do so and the more likely we are to use it more often. That’s what will drive greater online economic growth, which can be seen as a clear incentive.
At the same time, if commercial identity providers are motivated to enable us to reuse our credentials to access a multitude of services, then that helps limit the amount of unnecessary, replicated online personal information that we are required to provide.
This would mean overcoming any liability concerns between the parties, or the natural tendency for organizations to want to retain information about their customer base for their exclusive use.
So, are we moving in that direction yet?
There are reasons to be optimistic: An expected lower complexity as well as standardized and clearly regulated security levels across the entire digital identity ecosystem point into the direction of giving us ownership over our personal data, instead of giving it to the companies that use it. Therefore, that identity information will be shareable and portable across companies.
Furthermore, the shareable and portable aspect is also particularly supported with the metaverse development, given its decentralization.  It’s not only us individuals and companies transacting, but us amongst ourselves. A verified digital identity will be essential to provide trust in that environment.
How digital identity removes the friction in travel
For the travel industry, digital identity represents a dramatic shift in the way customer information is stored and used.
Using a verifiable credential stored in a digital wallet, we will have control over when our personal data is shared, what parts of it are shared, which vendors/intermediaries can access specific personal data, and how long they can access it.
This portable, digital, decentralized identity is highly secure and can be used throughout the travel process, removing major areas of friction when verifying identity since most identity information is stored in different systems that do not communicate with each other.
These fragmented systems are found, for example, at the airport for managing the security checkpoints, baggage checks, boarding process and whenever there is need to communicate to passengers specifically about alternatives following flight disruptions.
True frictionless travel eliminates the use of all credentials, and instead the person becomes the credential, as biometrics such as facial recognition replace the need for the type of identity confirmation previously handled by travel staff. 
IATA Travel Pass: Moving mountains in the digital identity travel landscape
The IATA Travel Pass is a true example of a decentralized digital ID product, which was built and launched in 2021. Leading the work around implementation in travel is a subgroup of the Decentralized Identity Foundation known as the Hospitality and Travel Special Interest Group (H&T SIG), with more than 30 companies and individuals collaborating to advance the adoption of decentralized digital identity in travel.
The IATA Travel Pass clearly illustrates how a variety of services are provided digitally by several systems, as well as both public and private companies, to the verified digital identity of a traveler.
Created for pandemic proof travel, the Travel Pass system has four components: 
1. A registry of health requirements enables passengers to find accurate information on travel, testing and eventually vaccine requirements for their journey. Powered by Timatic, the registry can determine if the traveler’s test type and timing are appropriate for the itinerary.
2. It has a registry of testing and vaccination centers so passengers can find labs that meet the requirements of the destination government.
3. IATA and Evernym have built an app that enables testing labs to securely send test results or vaccination certificates to passengers.
4. The system has a consumer-facing application, the IATA Travel Pass app, that travelers use to store a digital version of their passport and test results. Travelers can also share those results with the airline and authorities at the destination.
The whole purpose behind this is that we as passengers can walk from the road to the plane without having to physically exchange documents. CommonPass is another example of digital identity app, though on a smaller, health-focused scale.
It doesn’t stop there: that type of wallet can – and will – in the near future be used in many ways beyond the storing and sharing of health credentials. It also has the potential to profoundly change the way suppliers and travelers interact, opening new opportunities for retailing, loyalty and a more seamless travel experience while erasing concerns about privacy and security.
For mobility, an example of applied digital identity can be found in the transition to Smart City life with Mobility-as-a-Service. This development of on-demand mobility services via mobile phones makes a future without physical keys, public transport tickets, or highway tollbooths within reach.
Next moves for the digital identity ecosystem
Governments around the world are spending huge amounts to support economies following the impacts of the pandemic, looking for GDP gains, streamlining economies and decreasing fraud.
Digital identity enables all this, as well as robust testing regimes, opening travel and workplaces. According to a McKinsey study, the value creation of digital identity is equivalent to 3-13% of GDP by 2030. 
While we have described some examples and the incentive for governments and businesses is there, in order to achieve sufficient synergy within the ecosystem to get to the implementation of digital identity, the stakeholders still need to make some moves.
Firstly, the public sector may need to rewrite frameworks to enable digital forms of identification to be accepted in the same way as physical ID documents. Policy makers need to be able to move as quickly as the technology and times in which they live.
Also, data protection authorities must offer sufficient data protection and cover all the necessary legal bases to enable biometric digital identity to function.
For us citizens to trust in the technology and be willing participants, businesses must take the time to contribute to the global dialogue within the ecosystem and explain their models clearly. Innovative thinking is needed to enable us all to participate in this digital public infrastructure.
The technology enablers at the center of the ecosystem have a key role in the implementation of our secure digital identity so that we as the owners – driving the government and commercial transactional engines – will enjoy a frictionless user experience at the use cases of our choice.
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Banner photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com
 4 principles for securing the digital identity ecosystem | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)
 The benefits of a digital identity ecosystem | G+D Spotlight (gi-de.com)
 Digital identity - Your key to unlock the digital transformation | PWC
 Identity verification in the new digital economy | ThePaypers
 The difference between touchless and frictionless travel | PhocusWire
 IATA Travel Pass begins full use in March | PhocusWire
 Digital ID: A key to inclusive growth | McKinsey