Taking the guesswork out of air travel in the age of COVID-19

The Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority spoke to International Airport Review about the introduction of the Seychelles Islands Travel Authorisation platform, which enables advance screening of passengers for health and other security risks via web-form or mobile app prior to departure, which helps rebuild passenger confidence in air travel to a region which heavily depends on tourism.

Taking the guesswork out of air travel in the age of COVID-19

It was going to be a good year, in 2020 for the tourism industry, the main pillar of our small economy. Tourists were flocking in from our traditional European markets and we had noticed a remarkable increase of tourists from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa. All projections showed that it was going to be a record-breaking year, with a forecasted 403,575 tourists expected, representing a six per cent increase in visitor’s arrival over the previous year. We were by then already welcoming 1,000 visitors daily at the Seychelles International Airport (SEZ).

When the pandemic hit European countries and they started to close their borders, it became evident that this will be a major blow to the aviation and tourism industries. Being a small island tourism destination, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there was no way we could have escaped this unprecedented calamity.

The near-complete closure of our small nations’ borders in March 2020 saw inbound visitor numbers collapse overnight, and our tourism-dependent economy crippled under the weight of the pandemic.

Knowing that 60 per cent of our GDP comes from tourism – and many other businesses depend on this industry for their livelihood, it became clear at the onset that remaining closed from the rest of the world was not an option.”

As a member of the national task force led by the then Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine in partnership with the Public Health Authority amongst others, The Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) supported the efforts by the Department of Civil Aviation to develop and deliver a system that would open travel quickly, without compromising our then near-perfect record in the fight against COVID-19.

Our existing national infrastructure and agencies were already struggling under the pressure of manually processing PCR tests, cross-checking travel documents, and updating no-fly lists in real-time. It was apparent early on that these tasks would become nearly impossible to manage in the current manner as arrival figures started to rise, leaving the local population at risk of imported cases of COVID-19, or allowing illegal or unwanted passengers to slip through undetected. It looked like the sheer number of applications for travel would build an unmanageable backlog, hugely increase queues at the airport and limit the SCAA’s ability to implement COVID-19-safe measures for arriving passengers and our staff. A strategic decision was needed which will not deter tourism arrival, and simultaneously compromise the safety of our airport, our staff, our local population, and our country.

Going digital

By mid-2020, the team realised that digitising the arrival processes was the only way forward. The decision was made by the government for Seychelles to choose Travizory – hence introduce the ‘Seychelles Islands Travel Authorisation’ platform, to enable advance screening of passengers for health and other security risks. Under the new system, all travellers were able to pre-submit their health, customs, and immigration information via web-form or mobile app for approval by Seychelles Authorities, prior to departure from their country of origin.

The Travizory system meant swift validation of mandatory travel documents, such as vaccine certificates, PCR test results, and hotel bookings. The shared platform also meant that all agencies stationed at the airport were able to talk to one another in real-time, something that had never been done so efficiently before.

Putting passengers first: eliminating paperwork and queues

As visitors’ first point of contact with the Seychelles, it is vital that we can put our best foot forward at the airport. Now, with the new system providing a positive first impression of our destination, we made sure the passenger experience was the focus throughout the process.

Taking the guesswork out of air travel in the age of COVID-19

Credit: Travizory

The chaos at other airports that have attempted to reopen was an adequate warning of the reputational damage that could come with poor execution. Even major international hubs were faced with hours-long queues, with reports of passengers collapsing while waiting to be screened on arrival.

Addressing the uncertainty that many travellers, especially tourists, faced when travelling to a new destination during such troubling times, our electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) system was designed to alleviate passenger concerns of being denied boarding on departure to Seychelles and speed up their experience on arrival. Recognising that the added burden of COVID-19 testing can cause delays to applications, we prioritised passenger approvals, successfully reducing the 24-hour approval waiting time by 90 per cent to an average of two hours.

With the Department of Civil Aviation and Tourism and the Travizory team, a series of communiques was rolled out to tourism stakeholders as well as airlines operating in Seychelles to alert them of the new system and make it clear that an approved eTA was the only documentation that travellers had to present. An easy colour-coded status simplifies the experience for airlines that are juggling rapidly evolving requirements from hundreds of destinations while taking the guesswork out of travel for passengers.

Seychelles’ digital platform is accessible anytime, anywhere, thus offering convenience and a secure method for passengers to book their holiday with confidence. Simultaneously, the introduction of the secure QR code and biometric facial recognition guarantees a contactless, queue-free travel experience, minimising health risks by limiting physical interactions at check-in and on arrival.

Committed to efficiency

SCAA is on a mission to deliver a world-class airport experience, maximising efficiency while guaranteeing a COVID-19 safe environment. A major step on that journey was the elimination of queues, something we have achieved with health screening reduced to 30 seconds per passenger.

Next up, and with the agreement of the various government departments, our Republic will be removing all paper-based forms on arrival, with a view to digitising the entire process: from leaving the plane, passing health checks, immigration screening, and customs declarations. This will have passengers off the plane and onto our beaches in record time, leaving airport staff with the space and resources to focus on passengers that require extra attention or additional screening.

The final stage in our mission for efficiency is the rollout of a biometric corridor to screen arrivals in a contactless and secure manner. Seychelles is already the first country in Africa to boast biometric capability at our borders, something we are extremely proud of today. But we won’t stop here. Our work with Travizory is continuing over the coming months, as we introduce full biometric capability for health, immigration, and customs – with passengers able to enter the country with just their face.

Despite our size, we are committed to delivering an outstanding experience to everyone that travels through our airport. Deploying industry-leading technology and pushing the boundaries of what international travel can be in the world post-COVID-19, we’ve successfully rebounded with tourism levels back up to 70 per cent of pre-COVID-19 numbers.

With fresh thinking, an appetite for innovation, and a dedicated team, we are hoping that on the road to recovery from COVID-19, we still manage to achieve our vision whereby we bring excellence to passengers’ aviation experience.

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