The number of travellers using the ePassport SmartGate technology to pass through immigration upon arrival at airports across Australia passed the one million mark earlier this month.
However, only 35.5 percent of eligible passengers - those with an ePassport - used the service. According to statistics from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service provided to Computerworld, 687,717 out of 1,936,592 travellers with an ePassport used SmartGate between July 1 2009 and January 10 2010.
Tourism & Transport Forum executive director Brett Gale said that while traffic through the SmartGate is better than expected, he called on more people to use the technology.
"Delays in processing passengers by border control agencies frustrate the legitimate movement of people into and out of Australia,” he said. “This has economic consequences for tourism given that the delays impact on the ‘first impression’ that tourists gain when entering Australian ports.
“This reputation can adversely affect Australia as an attractive tourist destination, eventually leading to leakages from the economy.”
Gale also noted the negative economic impact of passenger processing delays, which means less time for passengers to spend.
"Expanding the use of SmartGates can help to reduce the cost of passenger processing as well as further reducing the time travellers must spend in customs queues,” he said. “Anything which improves the passenger experience is warmly welcomed by the tourism industry, as first - and last - impressions really count.”
The ePassport project was first kicked off in 2005 by then-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and was intended to drag passport control and border processing into the 21st century while securing the identity of millions of Australian citizens.
The digital face-recognition technology initially went live in Brisbane airport in August 2007 and has since been implemented in Cairns, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney international airports.
Gold Coast international airport will receive the next SmartGate roll-out in March.
Travellers heading overseas may soon be able to apply for a passport online if DFAT goes ahead with newly announced plans to upgrade some of the Australian Passport Office's (APO) IT systems.
Last month, Customs announced up to 400 new ePassport document readers will be rolled out across Australia’s airports as part of an IT upgrade.
- Cairns: 25.59%
- Brisbane: 32.73%
- Sydney: 32.4%
- Melbourne: 36.6%
- Adelaide: 39.92%
- Perth: 44.81%