By Satyaki Dutta
2020 was a tumultuous year for everyone, without a shred of doubt. It was especially hard for the travel and tourism sector and the related economy is still reeling from it. The COVID-19 crisis seemed perpetual until the vaccines arrived. Suddenly there was hope that we may all be able to travel again soon. Now, with newer strains spreading, the pandemic is far from over. Many travel trends emerged after the initial shock of Covid-19 – from road trips to workcations. Still, the question remains, where will vaccinated passengers be welcome and when.
Some countries and major organisations like European Parliament are currently working on a Digital Green Certificate. It will allow vaccinated EU citizens to travel freely across the continent. Iceland has already introduced certificates for its vaccinated citizens. Spain, Greece, Georgia, Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden are due to follow suit.
Some countries like the Maldives are promoting Vaccine Tourism. Maldives’ tourism minister said that the country would offer visitors’ vaccinations on arrival as part of a three-pronged initiative. It is aimed at reviving the country’s hard-hit tourism sector.
Vaccines are already changing the sentiment around travel. Now, a new term has entered: vaccine passport. A vaccination pass or passport is a digital document proving that you have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Some versions of the passport will also allow you to show that you have been tested negative for the virus.
President Biden’s sanctioned various executive orders in the US to curb the pandemic. One of them asks government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking Covid-19 vaccine certificates with other vaccination documents and producing digital versions of them. Denmark’s government promised that in the next 3-4 months, it will roll out a digital passport that will allow its citizens to show they have been vaccinated.
Vaccine passports are just not being endorsed by the government of various countries. Some airlines like Etihad Airways and Emirates are planning to start using a digital travel pass, developed by the IATA. It will help passengers manage their travel plans and provide airlines and government documentation that they have been vaccinated or tested for Covid-19.
IATA is one of several organizations that have been working on digital solutions to streamline the travel credentialing process for years. During the pandemic, these groups have focused on including vaccination status.
“It’s about trying to digitize a process that happens now and allows for more harmony, making it easier for people to travel between countries without pulling out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints,” said Nick Careen, senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security at IATA (International Air Transport Association).
An important question you may ask is: Why would I need a vaccine passport or pass? As more people are inoculated, there will likely be aspects of public life in which only people who have been vaccinated are allowed to participate. To travel internationally, government and health authorities need to know if you have been vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus.
This trend can effectively create a safe travel bubble for the tourists on an international level, providing a comfortable journey. It can help revive the travel and tourism industry to a great extent too. At present, many countries are already requiring proof of a negative test for entry. “Such passes could be essential to restart the tourism industry”, said Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization.