Border Bottlenecks: How to Streamline the Flow of Travellers

Discover how Border Controls can embrace Smart Borders to streamline traveller flows across air, land & sea.

In 2019 alone, airport traffic increased by 4% with twenty-five of Europe’s thirty busiest airports experiencing a surge from the previous year. Additionally, seaports and land border crossings face growing pressure to meet the demand for international tourism and trade across the Schengen space.

While the impact of COVID-19 makes 2020 an outlier from this upward trend, the European travel industry will undoubtedly regain strength in years to come. The year-by-year increase in travellers across air, land and sea presents an imminent challenge for border control agencies to enhance operational efficiency and streamline the movement of people between nations.

With this in mind, a growing number of border controls are investing in end-to-end passenger flow systems to enhance experiences and tackle border bottlenecks through a more holistic lens. With different border crossings presenting unique case-by-case challenges and requiring bespoke solutions, the key to optimisation is to identify and remove ‘border bottlenecks’ — creating a steady flow of travellers at every stage of a border crossing.

Crucially, security and safety standards remain paramount throughout this discussion to ensure border agencies can increase efficiency and enhance traveller experiences, without compromising on the integrity or reliability of processes.

So, let’s take a look at how border control agencies can target border bottlenecks to deliver a seamless travel experience that puts national security at the centre of the conversation.


Optimised Resource Management for Growing Global Traveller Traffic Flows

One of the biggest challenges for border agencies is running 24/7/365 operations that must comply with strict standards, without clear oversight as to when they can expect a surge or dip in travellers numbers.


Traveller unpredictability can lead to border bottlenecks if an agency is unable to deploy sufficient personnel or invest in the necessary infrastructure to process travellers at a given border crossing. Whether it’s forecasting five years into the future to inform infrastructural investment decisions or stationing additional border guards ahead of a particularly busy day at a seaport, predictability is vital to manage resources and adapt to dynamic situations.


Helsinki Airport - Vision-Box


The Power of Pre-Arrival Information

So, how can border agencies improve predictability and better manage resources to satisfy growing global passenger traffic flows?


A fundamental principle behind the EU’s ongoing Smart Borders package involves collecting traveller information ahead of a border crossing to help agencies prepare ahead of time. Instead of inundating a border agency with a sudden and unexpected spike in travellers (demanding a reactive response), pre-arrival information promotes a proactive approach.


Additionally, pre-arrival information can improve passenger familiarity with new systems and reduce delays as border agencies can use entry forms to share important information about how travellers should interact with new systems and offer advice about when to arrive at an airport, seaport or land border.


European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)


The introduction of European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) by the end of 2022 aims to identify irregular migration and health risks posed by Third Country Nationals (TCNs) into the Schengen space, while simultaneously streamlining the flow of bona fide travellers.


ETIAS will be a mandatory entry requirement for visa-exempt TCNs entering the Schengen zone. This process will equip European authorities with a central database to assess potential risks in advance and inform individual border crossings with accurate forecasting.


The European Commission’s Migration and Home Affairs office explains how “the information gathered via ETIAS will allow, in full respect of fundamental rights and data protection principles, for advance verification of potential security, irregular migration of high epidemic risks.”


Ergonomic Transit & the Power of Communication



Designing processes around human experiences is critical to provide seamless experiences that people understand. Whether it’s designing intuitive signage to guide travellers, optimising the architecture of a space to avoid physical bottlenecks, using data analytics to build intelligent queue management systems or using graphics to overcome multi-national language barriers, ergonomic transit revolves around clear and purposeful communication.


Providing a seamless traveller experience involves observing how people interact with certain elements of a border crossing and updating your approach to work towards an optimised solution. For example, initial EES testing found people tend to retrieve their passport too quickly and failed to apply the correct pressure when scanning their documents. While this kind of issue may sound small, repeated miscommunications can cause critical delays if travellers aren’t supported with the information they need to interact with new systems.


Designing Smart Borders for Humans

Evangelist in the digital identity space, Jean-Francois (Jeff) Lennon, explains that “while the ultimate outcome of the EU’s Smart Borders initiative is to implement technology-focused solutions at air, land and sea borders, the reality is an overwhelmingly human challenge.”


Human intuition is an inherently complex yet predictable beast. Despite the creative challenges of building systems that are “in-tune” with human behaviours, improving the flow of people via intelligent design is an incredibly powerful way to break down border bottlenecks. Humans are predictable creatures that are subject to social phenomena such as herd behaviour and social conformity.


That said, these seemingly predictable behaviours can manifest as highly unpredictable habits that are difficult to anticipate through computer simulations or theoretical models.


Jeff believes the key to optimising the design of a border crossing and implementing new systems is repeated experimentation through a series of soft launches. While many border agencies shy away from experimentation and fear failure, soft launches provide a safe and controllable environment for agencies to test new hypotheses, without compromising on national security.


The key to successful experimentation is to reframe failure into a constructive learning exercise whereby border agencies can test how humans respond to systems and help stakeholders design processes around the human experience.


Seamless Flow in Action


A prime example of border guards embracing experimentation to optimise Smart Borders implementation is evident in our long-standing partnership with Raja, the Finnish Border Guard.

With the looming 2022 deadline for the implementation of the EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES), Vision-Box has worked side by side with the Finnish Border Control since 2009 to pave the way towards a successful and seamless launch.

Finland is one of Europe’s most significant entry points with an extremely high migratory flux due to its bilateral agreements with the likes of Japan and South Korea. Helsinki airport’s unique status as a gateway to Europe from Asia and North America presented Vision-Box with an exciting (yet challenging) opportunity to implement Smart Borders technology in a complex and high-stake environment.

Our decade-long partnership with the RAJA (Finnish Border Guard) [LINK] revolves around continuous improvements and framing failure in a positive light to build a deep appreciation for what it takes to design human-orientated systems. After successfully implementing Europe’s first EES project and implementation [LINK TO CASE STUDY], we’ve accumulated years of experience and learnings to reduce the risk of errors in real-life scenarios and guide the future implementation of Smart Borders.


Passenger Flow Analysis & Harnessing Data to Increase Efficiency

An age-old problem or ‘bottleneck’ for border guards is striking a balance between resource investment and traveller backlogs. While investing in personnel and cutting-edge infrastructure can increase the number of travellers processed in a given time, national border controls must be realistic with budgeting and resource distribution to ensure all border crossings are fit for purpose.


Vice President and the Global Head of Travel and Transportation at HCL America, Dheeraj Kohli, explains how the key to optimised resource management lies in “harnessing the ability not only to tap into the vast quantity of data being collected, but to establish a data-based platform that allows you to visualise the data and use it to improve operational efficiency.”


European border control agencies must collaborate with the likes of Frontex and eu-LISA to harness the power of data and discover best practices around collecting, storing, processing and interpreting large data sets.


Data interpretation is a key success factor in the roll-out of Smart Borders and plays a fundamental role in Vision-Box’s partnership with the Finnish Border Guard [LINK]. Data provides a vital feedback loop to shine a light on the successes or shortcomings of a project — helping border control agencies edge closer to achieving their vision.


Smart Borders: Opening the Floodgates

The EU’s Smart Borders package represents a landmark stepwise leap forward for the European travel sector. As border control agencies continue to toil with outdated infrastructure and insufficient systems to process a growing number of travellers by air, land and sea, Smart Borders will open the floodgates to a new era of seamless and secure travel.


Breaking down border bottlenecks is all about embracing automation and biometrics alongside human-centric design to streamline processes and improve resources management while maintaining a steadfast focus on national security.



Want to learn more about the challenges and opportunities of Smart Borders implementation?

Download our Case Study for an in-depth analysis of the next frontier of travel.


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Publish date: March 2023

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