SITA looking to bolster digitalisation of borders, travel in Africa

SITA Government and Industry Relations director Andy Smith outlines the company’s future digital borders vision. Camerawork and editing: Shadwyn Dickinson.

9th May 2023

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online


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Border management agency SITA sees considerable potential for South Africa and Africa to leapfrog legacy deployments and adopt digital solutions at borders to streamline travel and transport in the region; however, there are some constraints as it looks to engender this.

This was indicated by SITA government and industry relations director Andy Smith, speaking during a SITA borders management media briefing and roundtable discussion, in Johannesburg, on May 9.

SITA is a Geneva-headquartered global air transport and border management information technology provider.

The company, which saw two-billion travellers processed with its border solutions in 2019 (pre-pandemic statistics), is already active in some countries in Africa. Smith outlined that the company had been working with the South African government, mainly the Department of Home Affairs, since 2009. This included supporting South Africa with a border management system during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Smith indicated that efforts to deepen the company’s reach in the region came as flagship initiatives in the region progressed, including the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Free Movement of Persons Protocol.

In terms of the former, Smith outlined that this presented an opportunity to reach upwards of two-billion consumers. Moreover, AfCFTA was projected to lead to a 25%, or $36-billion, growth in intra-Africa trade between now and 2040.

Moreover, Smith said that there was also an opportunity to increase intra-African travel and cargo, with this openness of free movement to be grounded in security.

“The only way we're going to do that is through digitalisation and technology. Technology can help sway the process, it can help combat certain elements of corruption, which is obviously a challenge of certain borders as well. We’re excited to work with Africa on this,” he highlighted.

Smith also touched on the drivers impacting the border industry.

He said that, in terms of security, threats to borders included terrorism, trafficking, international crime and geopolitical instabilities.

Moreover, there were health threats, with Smith indicating that the pandemic showcased that globally, there was a lack of readiness regarding border protection against this, despite protocols existing.

Also, Smith said the pandemic underscored the fact that borders could not shut down for long periods of time, as this led to considerable financial loss and could also cause civil unrest.

Therefore, he said, security needed to be balanced against facilitation.

Facilitation included aiming to improve, increase, and streamline tourism, trade and immigration, while protecting revenue and managing regional integration.

Smith averred that facilitation and security could be managed together if digitalisation was used, rather than trading off between the two.

Smith acclaimed that the air transport industry was making considerable headway in digital travel. Referencing SITA’s 2022 Passenger and Air Transport IT Survey, he informed that 75% of airlines indicated that they would invest in biometric identity solutions for passengers by 2025.

Moreover, over half of the airports said that they planned to use biometrics across all touchpoints by 2025.

Smith emphasised that it was important to have buy-in from passengers, therefore, the survey also considered this perspective. He indicated that over seven out of ten passengers said that they were comfortable using biometric identity at each stage of the journey.

However, there should be options available for those who were not willing to use these, or unable to, Smith averred.

Some of the constraints faced in the region in undertaking digital solutions include challenges around identity management and sovereignty of borders.

Therefore, Smith highlighted areas of focus as starting to plan for the digital transformation of borders; strong collaboration across governments, aviation and travel stakeholders; and collaboration with the industry to shape the future digital travel network with the traveller at the centre. 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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