If you have flown in and out of the UK in the last couple of years, you might have noticed that you need to provide your passport details well ahead of travel. Yet, you don’t have to do this when you travel between other destinations, say between Lisbon and Paris.
The reason you need to provide that information when you enter or leave the UK is that air carriers are required to do so, by law. They have to transmit your data to the UK Borders Agency (UK BA), which checks the information provided against watch lists. If the UK BA deems that you are a threat to national security, it will alert border staff (e.g., immigration officers) to stop you.
My colleagues Kirstie Ball, Liz Daniel, Sally Dibb, Maureen Meadows and Keith Spiller from the Open University, and myself, have investigated the impact of this requirement on firms in the travel industry. We collected data over a 3-year period, as part of the Taking Liberties project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
We found that the impact of this requirement extends well beyond the relationship between the airline and the UK BA. For instance, it impacts the customer experience, as well as the relationships between the carrier and tour operators, travel agents and other partners in the supply chain. Complying with the regulation carries considerable costs for the airlines and those that sell tickets to the public. They have had to implement new IT systems, change processes and retrain staff. Compliance with the regulation is not only compulsory and enforced, but it must take place within the UK BA timeframe and mechanics.
Initially, some firms looked for ways to pass these costs on to the passengers. But competitive pressures in the travel sector led some firms to focus, instead, on improving the customer experience – for instance, some travel agencies will retain the details for regular customers and complete the forms on their behalf.
And some firms are even looking into new revenue streams or business opportunities arising from this regulatory requirement. For instance, if a traveller contacts the call centre with an enquiry about the legal requirement, they try to use that opportunity to develop the relationship with the customer, and maybe even cross sell. Other firms are considering offering ‘pay for fast track’ services.
But just as organisations have started to adjust, the EU challenged the legality of the system. It warned that the principle of freedom of movement within the EU means that European citizens can not be stopped from travelling if they refuse to pass on their personal information. The EU suggested that citizens may opt out of providing that data, but the UK challenged this advice, and the matter is still unsolved. Some experts believe that this big data collection project may very well go the same way of other big (UK) government projects, such as the National Identity Register.
In the meantime, the air travel industry ‘just gets on with it’.
Details of this research are available in a paper that has just been published by the Tourism Management journal – available here (pay wall). A summary report for practitioners is available here (free).
We also presented the preliminary findings of this research at the Academy of Marketing conference:
What we haven’t looked at in our research is how these regulatory requirements impact on the behaviour of travellers. For instance, does it change how they buy travel products, or their relationships with travel firms? In your case, did the compulsory data collection change your behaviour?