Will vaccine passports pave the way for travel resumption?

Vaccine passport2

With countries across the world starting to ramp up their coronavirus vaccination programs it looks inevitable that travellers will need some form of health passport or certificate to move across borders.

For some it seems to be the only way to kickstart international travel, given the new reluctance of governments across the world to open up in the face of a major resurgence in the pandemic in recent months.

Countries like the UK are looking at stepping up their restrictions rather than relaxing them. Under discussion at the moment is some form of quarantine system for arrivals into the country, which could include mandatory isolation in hotels. Israel has gone even further, banning all flights to and from the country until the end of the month.

All of this paints a pretty bleak picture for the hospitality and tourism industry. Many will be desperate for some form of action that enables things to get back to some level of normality before the European summer months, when a lot of people would usually be travelling.

Earlier this month, the Global Tourism Crisis Committee, which is led by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) called for international action to help support the standardization and digitalization of testing protocols and certification systems.

 “The rollout of vaccines is a step in the right direction, but the restart of tourism cannot wait. Vaccines must be part of a wider, coordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.

The Network for the European Private Sector in Tourism (NET), a grouping of travel associations from across the continent, has also called for co-ordination to “ensure we have a solid base from which travel and tourism can rebuild.”

Individual countries are cautiously pushing for some form of certificate. Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez said in an interview on RNE national radio that: “Vaccine certification is something we are going towards inevitably”.

“It will be a very important element to guarantee a safe return to mobility.”

Greece is also arguing for a vaccination scheme and tabled a proposal at European Union level to try and get some level of support across the continent. But, crucially, the country’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said a vaccination certificate would not be mandatory for travel.

“We should not confuse a vaccination certificate with a travel passport. Our aim is not to divide Europeans into two categories, those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t. Instead we want to create a ‘fast travel lane’ for those with a digitally standardized certificate,” he said, writing on the website Euractiv.

Instead, he said, testing and quarantine could be used as an alternative.

For countries like Spain and Greece that heavily rely on international tourism, finding a way to get the industry moving again can’t come soon enough but at the same time it needs to have a level of rigour that gives people confidence to travel, be it for work or business.

The call for international harmonization comes after months of conflicting advice from countries and organizations across the world on how — and even when — the global tourism industry should try and restart.

Even now there are still those who don’t favour going down the vaccination certificate route.

Not everyone thinks they are viable. Gloria Guevara the Chief Executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) said on a Reuters video panel, that: “We should never require the vaccination to get a job or to travel. If you require the vaccination before travel, that takes us to discrimination.”

The WTTC is placing a greater emphasis on an internationally recognised testing scheme on departure and arrival.

With the pandemic still raging across many parts of the world, talking about opening up countries for tourism might seem premature but the development of multiple vaccines has given the travel industry hope. It now just needs to agree on a path forward.