Vaccine Passports Ready to Fly Despite Layers of Complexity

Vaccine Passports Ready to Fly Despite Layers of Complexity

Thanks to the pharmaceutical industry’s phenomenal success in developing a vaccine against COVID-19, the travel industry is restarting again. There are reasons to be realistically optimistic for a decent summer season, while bookings into winter and 2022 are also looking strong. Vaccines are not the only reason governments worldwide are re-opening borders and B&Bs but are a vitally important part of the recovery.

In the UK, much of the mainstream media focus has been on so-called ‘vaccine passports’ as a way for travellers to prove they have been vaccinated and therefore be able to travel. But the complexities of what is needed for ‘vaccine passports’ to happen – regulatory, technical, ethical – are daunting, even before factoring in that the vaccine passport system then has to integrate seamlessly into the airline industry’s already complicated tech back-end. 

The technical challenge here is unlike anything the travel industry has faced before because it involves integrations with systems and standards outside the travel technology comfort zone. But with many travel firms well advanced in their digital transformation – open source software, APIs, the cloud – these challenges can be met. Aggregating data from disparate sources to create new and complementary products and services is the travel tech industry’s area of expertise.

The travelling public has given the industry both the go-ahead and a warning. A report from travel tech powerhouse Amadeus found more than 9 in 10 (91%) travelers said they would be comfortable using a digital health passport for future trips, although almost the same proportion was also concerned about how their health data would be stored and used.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) represents the vast majority of the world’s airlines – with EasyJet and Ryanair notable exceptions – and has access to in-house and external expertise. Travel tech powerhouse Amadeus is working with IATA on Common Pass and is also looking into the role of health apps as part of its Safe Travel Ecosystem initiative. It is also adding health fields into its Traveler ID product.

Amadeus, which is partnering with Travel Forward Theatre during the live sessions at ATM in Dubai, explained: “One of our main objectives through the Safe Travel Ecosystem is to put our technology and expertise at the service of our customers to drive travel recovery. One way that we are doing that is by connecting existing identity and health validation initiatives to accelerate global adoption”.

Questions about the international acceptance of other countries’ protocols are starting to be asked. The UK government has said that British travelers can use the NHS app to validate their vaccination status when travelling overseas from May 17th, which prompted the consumer group Which? Travel to demand: “Travellers do need urgent and concrete assurances from the government as to whether green list countries will accept this form of proof.”

While concerns about the vaccine itself are very much fake news/conspiracy theory, there are legitimate issues around whether the need to be vaccinated before international travel plays into the hands of wealthy Westerners. The relatively low cost has democratised travel, making it easier for everyone to explore. The industry cannot allow COVID to end up being why travel has once again become the preserve of the rich.

Simon Press, Exhibition Director, Travel Forward, agrees with the wider industry – vaccine passports can help rebuild consumer confidence in the travel industry but are not the miracle cure some would like them to be.

“Vaccine passports will mean that there is a digital asset that confirms the holder has had the vaccine or a negative test before travelling and that builds confidence for the airline, the cruise company or the train line, and also for the destination you might be going to as well,” he said.

“They are part of an overall offering. It’s linked with COVID-19 testing, social distancing, and the ‘track and traceability of the destination country you’re going to. There is no silver bullet.”

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