We are getting closer to enjoying traveling again. Despite the catastrophic aura that COVID issues, there is hope for both travellers and for the tourism sector thanks to the vaccination programs and the development of a new game changer: the travel pass.
As the first trimester of 2021 comes to an end, international travel remains as it was back in March 2020: restricted. However, the overall situation is way more hopeful 12 months since the coronavirus outbreak. The development of different vaccines like Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, or Johnson and Johnson’s, along with the corresponding scheme of national vaccination programs, are bringing some level of normalcy back to our societies. While more and more people continue to get vaccinated, a new tool that aims to be a lifesaver for the global travel industry is about to come to light. You probably guessed it already, I am talking about a new passport that allows people to travel the world safely.
What is it all about?
Almost from the beginning of this global pandemic, the travel sector and all of its stakeholders looked for both new measures and innovative ideas that helped to fight the numerous disruptions caused by the disease. Compared to 2019, and according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), last year just the aviation industry accounted for $118 billion in losses and a 70% drop in demand. The damage for the whole tourism sector, just in the first 10 months of 2020, reached the $935 billion mark. In this semi apocalyptic scenario, an idea started to germinate. One designed to contribute to reopen borders and boost a new way of traveling in the COVID era.
IATA, knowing that the first step to bring travels back to normal is getting airplanes back in the air, developed an initiative called ‘IATA Travel Pass’. Its aim is quite clear: ensure that the risk of importing the disease is reduced while building confidence among governments worldwide to embrace international travel as they used to.
To do so, there is a need to collect accurate data regarding global travellers’ health. Additionally, another key aspect involved in the IATA Travel Pass is information management. This new digital passport is thought to be able not just to update air passengers about what vaccines and/or tests they need to get before jumping on a plane but also where they can arrange these procedures. And yes, this platform takes into consideration data protection too, as the passengers’ results and COVID status should be shared, for instance, with security bodies at airports’ terminals.
In recent weeks, the European Commission issued a similar initiative. Although it is called ‘Digital Green Pass’, its aim is the same than IATA’s travel pass: to provide reliable evidence that passengers have been either vaccinated or tested negative therefore, facilitating the recovery of international traveling. Also, the Digital Green Pass seeks to take a step forward and provide information about people who have had COVID in the past, allowing them to travel too.
Travel passes that are not exempt from challenges
The IATA Travel Pass, VeriFLY, CommonPass… all of them are tools that seek to achieve a massively ambitious goal by providing travellers and nations with a safe control measure designed to reduce the spread of COVID without compromising the air passengers’ privacy. Yet ambition is not exempt from challenges. In this case, all of these digital initiatives are subject to a set of complexities related to the virus.
For example, COVID brings a high level of uncertainty not just for travellers but for organisations such as airlines, airports … and governments. In the same way, the amount of different types of tests or vaccines available, and even the existence of various variants of the virus, create a chaotic environment for all the stakeholders. This overflow of information may lead to fraud or ineffective practices when, for instance, checking documents by members of airports’ security teams which are also affected by uncertainty and misinformation. At this point is when the efficiency of travel passes will be actually tested, as they will be a crucial part of the documents’ set needed for travelling.
In the case of the Digital Green Pass, there are concerns about discrimination towards some travellers. To be exact, several European countries express the unfairness of easing travel restrictions just for vaccinated travellers and not for either travellers who test negative or those who have had COVID in the past. Therefore, travel passes that get implemented worldwide will have to be as inclusive as possible in order to avoid the stigmatization of certain segments of citizens.
Finally, for travel passes to work successfully, a level of cooperation never seen before will be necessary to implement between different actors. Laboratories, airlines, governments, DMOs, travellers… we all have our role to play. From issuing established travel certificates, to confirming that travel requirements are met, to providing accurate information and preserving confidential data.
How do they work?
From the traveller’s point of view, travel passes are used in the form of an app that is installed on the phone. In the case of the IATA Travel Pass app, travellers can find the following key information:
- Travel requirements for their journey: for instance, the types of either tests or vaccines needed depending on the destination.
- Testing/vaccination centres: both at their departure and arrival destinations. This information may include from exact locations, to opening and closing times, to prices and other requirements.
Most of these apps allow travellers to check that their tests and/or vaccinations’ results allow them to meet the obligations needed for their journey. If so, travellers can generate the so known as digital passport which status will be shared through a certificate or a QR code to the relevant authorities throughout their journey.
Who is adopting travel passes?
In the global travel sector, more tourism businesses are adopting some kind of travel pass to restart their travel flow, with the aviation sector leading the way. In the case of the IATA Travel Pass, airlines such as Emirates, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, New Zealand, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways are currently testing it on some of their flights. During the first trimester of 2021, British Airways started to trial an app called VeriFLY while air carriers like Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, and Cathay Pacific adopted the CommonPass app. I must say that none of these three apps are currently mandatory to use for travellers. Israel, Bahrain, China, The Seychelles…the list of destinations that are embracing any sort of travel pass continues to grow every day that passes, facilitating a safe return for international travels.
We are getting closer to enjoying travelling again. Despite the catastrophic aura that COVID issues, there is hope for both travellers and for the tourism sector thanks to the vaccination programs and the development of measures like the different travel passes that I have written about in this article. In the next months we shall see a growth in terms of destinations encouraging travel by easing restrictions as well as in the figures of international visitors especially in emerging types of travellers. While you plan your next trip, do not forget to delete some apps from your phone and make room for one of the travel passes. We will need them in the short term.