ATM 2021: COVID vaccine passports to aid recovery of global travel

Industry needs to make people feel confident again and the most important factor for this is safety and security

  
Day one at Arabian Travel Market. Image courtesy Dubai Media Office Twitter handle.

Day one at Arabian Travel Market. Image courtesy Dubai Media Office Twitter handle.

Covid-19 vaccine passports will play a key role in the recovery of the global travel industry, however, they are only a short-term solution, experts said at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2021 exhibition.

The event opened its doors on Sunday at the Dubai World Trade Centre and was inaugurated by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Emirates airline and Chief Executive of the Emirates Group. He was accompanied Helal Saeed Al Marri, director-general of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, and other officials.

The ATM brought together several experts to highlight various topics such as travel, tourism and hospitality. Several of the discussions revolved around the Covid-19 pandemic and the role that digital health and vaccination passports will play in aiding global recovery.

“Whatever can make travel easier and safer is a good thing,” said Laurent A. Voivenel, senior vice-president of operations and development for Emea and India, and senior vice-president of group human resources and talent development at Swiss-Belhotel International.

“However, I appreciate that there are a lot of people that don’t want to take the vaccine at the moment and even those who can’t take it due to medical reasons, and these people will feel penalised. We have to find a solution that accommodates everyone.”

Looking at examples of nations that are already using digital health passports, he cited Bahrain and the success of its digital health passport initiative.

“If you have received your vaccine, then you don’t need to do a PCR test or quarantine, and this really eases travel. Does it solve all the problems? No, but it is a good step in ensuring that global recovery is on the right track.”

He added: “We need to make people feel confident again and the most important factor for this is safety and security. In addition, we have to look at ways that make travelling easier again for people. Travelling right now is not a pleasure for people; they travel only if they have to and it is very stressful for them to do so.”

Raki Phillips, CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, stressed that getting vaccinated before travelling is important, and that the UAE is one of the top three countries that is leading the world in terms of vaccine coverage. However, to have real open travel again, you cannot rely on vaccinations alone, he said.

“There are several other factors that you need to take into account,” he said. “Globally, not every country has unhindered access to vaccines, or the proper direction like the UAE has shown. The way we see it, we need to put smart measures in place such as rapid PCR testing, antigen testing, mask wearing, and social distancing. This is required to come back with a healthy recovery. To rely solely on vaccinations is not the case when we look at the global situation.”

Guy Hutchinson, president and CEO of Rotana, said that Covid-19 vaccine passports will come in time, but that they will be a short to medium-term solution for the recovery of global travel.

“They will be an enabling factor. Gradually, it will be a facilitator for the re-opening of global travel. There will be permanent solutions in the future that will see its use diminish, but for the moment, with the focus on vaccines, digital health passports will be a very important factor.”

Vinayak Mahtani, CEO of bnbme Holiday Homes, believes that digital health passports are just the start of health controls for mankind.

“I don’t believe the passport will be limited to just Covid-19 in the future, and it would be sensible for them to start to include other areas of the medical world such as Aids, kidney issues, cancer patients, and so on. There is so much you could do with this information for the safety of tourists.”

The introduction of digital vaccine passports will have an immediate positive impact on tourism globally, with Covid-19 vaccinated visitors being permitted to travel almost as freely as pre-Covid-19 days, he said.

“It will remove the prejudice and doubt from hosts when tourists start to arrive in their country. I also believe it will control the spread of the virus, making travellers more responsible by simply not being allowed to travel if they are not vaccinated.”

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