Over the last week, the credit card company MasterCard has been offering free contactless travel around London. Owners of the NFC-ready Mastercard have been able to take advantage of a variety of free journeys on transport routes for London bus and tube, London overground and Docklands Light Railway routes. This latest scheme is an attempt by the credit card company to induce travellers to participate in contactless payments, as opposed to relying on the popular Oyster Card system and traditional paper tickets. Mastercard dubbed the scheme “Fare Free Fridays”.

Contactless systems multiply

The initiative is just the latest in a raft of similar measures which have been introduced into London public transport over the last few months. Earlier in the year, Barclaycard set up a charity scheme entitled “Penny for London”, which enabled members of the public to make small donations to charity every time they utilise an NFC payment system on public transport. And Zwipe and Mastercard have already collaborated on the world's first contactless payments card with an embedded fingerprint scanner. This particular credit card is utilised in order to make secure payments at any NFC-compatible outlet, but because of security features ensure that only the owner is able to use it. Other NFC-based systems have also been introduced. The Cash on Tap contactless payments app is now fully compatible with London rail services. This enables commuters to carry out a range of transactions using their mobile phone, and is accepted now on a raft of different public transport schemes throughout Britain's capital city. Barclaycard has also rolled out bPay wristbands to 10,000 Londoners. This is an NFC-powered wearable which enables contactless payments to be made by the wearer in both stores and some forms of public transport. The system only supports transactions up to £20 at present, but in time it is hoped that this can be extended. All outlets that offer NFC payments support bPay, which includes Co-op supermarkets, Subway, McDonalds, Starbucks and the London Underground.

Apple Pay and Apple Watch

What all of these initiatives indicate is a growing acceptance of contactless payments, and a bright future for mobile payment systems. The increasing prominence of NFC-based payments should be seen in the context of Apple’s recent announcement and release of the Apple Pay system. It is thought that this mobile payment system, which is integrated into the recent iPhone 6 smartphone and iPad Air 2 tablet, will have a massive impact on the acceleration of mobile payments. This is not least the case because the iPhone is the world's largest selling mobile device. Already Apple has formed partnerships with many prominent retailers, and the consumer electronics giant promises that Apple Pay will provide a unique combination of convenient contactless payment technology with the unique and high-grade security features that have come to be associated with Apple. Further advancing this trend is the impending popularity of wearable devices. The Barclaycard bPay wristband is really imitating existing wearable devices such as smartwatches. While this particular consumer electronics niche has not really reached a fertile audience yet that could be about to change in 2015 with the release of the Apple Watch. This technology release is surely one of the worst kept secret in the history of consumer electronics, yet Apple still insisted on keeping the Apple Watch under its hat for many months while preparations were made behind the scenes. But by announcing that it is to be released at some point in 2015, Apple essentially confirmed that the next calendar year could be the one in which smartwatches really begin to take off. Not only could this have a big impact on mobile payment systems, but there is a great deal of other functionality that could be delivered via smartwatches armed with NFC technology. The potential for airlines, for example, to deliver flight information and mobile boarding passes via smartwatches is an extremely intriguing concept for the tourism industry. Potentially the smartwatch can go hand-in-hand with mobile payment systems to create an extremely rich source of income for canny travel-related companies.

Tapping into NFC

The Digital Tourism Think Tank has previously reported on both the potential rise of wearable devices, as well as the significance of the Apple Pay system and mobile payments in general. But the utilisation of these payment systems on London public transport begins to give a real world example of how they can be implemented in a way that benefits both consumers and travel-related businesses. Although this isn't quite a mainstream technology yet, the time is coming where this will be the case. There are all manner of ways in which contactless and mobile technology can be used innovatively by both tourism-related companies and destinations in order to promote themselves and sell products. Only a few weeks ago, the New York Times reported on the latest market research report related to mobile payments. This was carried out by the research firm Forrester, which concluded that mobile-based payments in the United States alone are expected to reach $142 billion by 2019. Such estimates may not be entirely accurate, but it is clear that this will eventually be a vast marketplace. Both travel businesses and destinations should already be working out how to tap into it.

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