Is the future of travel passport-less?

“Never let a good crisis go to waste” is one of Winston Churchill’s most famous quotes, allegedly said during the darkest days of World War II. And while there are many ways to read Churchill’s celebrated lament, we should just go to the simplest one – dramatic change means opportunities for growth.  

Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for the travel industry, it has given fresh insights into long-established practices, and may act as a scientific and technological accelerator. 

And with the upcoming introduction of vaccine passports, travel looks to be one of the first sectors to benefit from this forward thinking. But the changes don’t stop there. Will we eventually enter a pioneering world of passport-less travel?

What Is a Vaccine Passport Exactly?

Essentially, it’s digital documentation to prove that an individual has been vaccinated against a virus – in this case COVID-19. With data usually presented as a QR code, it can be stored on your phone as part of a digital wallet or on an app.

‘We will beat this crisis and reconnect our world’ reads the optimistic headline on the website of the International Air Travel Association (IATA), and it’s their app that could kickstart the rejuvenation of global travel. With 290 airlines calling themselves members, the IATA travel app will allow governments and airlines to digitally collect, access and share information on the status of individual passengers’ Covid-19 test and vaccination.

In fact, as far back as November Qantas CEO Alan Joyce had been talking about asking people to have a vaccination before getting on their aircraft. “For international visitors coming out and people leaving the country we think that’s a necessity,” he said.

But it’s not just airlines who are playing their part – individual countries will also need to decide what their policies will be at the borders. And with summer approaching, it’s imperative for countries who rely significantly on tourism to have all their processes in order.

Tourism provides 27 million jobs throughout Europe and generates around 10% of the E.U.’s GDP, so countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy will be desperate to encourage the return of summer tourists with the vaccination passport appearing as the best scheme to facilitate travel to the E.U.

“The trend now is towards what’s likely to be open,” said Toby Kelly, CEO of UK travel agency Trailfinders, when talking about destinations that will be most willing to enable the vaccine passport concept.

The Effects of New Technology

But vaccine passports aren’t without their concerns either however, with the most obvious one being the creation of a so-called ‘two-tier’ society – i.e. having one group of people who have been vaccinated and can therefore freely travel, and anybody who hasn’t been vaccinated and has to stay where they are.  

And with countries such as the UK on a rapid vaccination programme and on track to open up for summer, it could be seen as unfair that countries with less access to the vaccines have to sit tight and suffer the consequences for longer.

There’s also the issue of data privacy, a subject that will always raise its head when the handing over of sensitive personal details is concerned.

“Governments shouldn’t rush it. I think it’s a Pandora’s box and think it’s a slippery slope into having life being governed by your health status,” said Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics.

Clouds and Digital Identity – Is the Future of Travel Closer Than We Think?

With any vaccine passport likely to use both cloud technology and biometrics, international travel in 2021 could be seen as a vast experiment for the possibility of passport-less travel in the future. And surely that’s a good thing?

“Why carry your passport around with you when it’s held securely in the cloud?” said Andrew Bud, founder and CEO of iProov, who, together with Mvine, is trialling a vaccine certificate in the U.K.

“This is pretty important,” explained Bud. “The evolution of vaccine certificates will actually drive the whole field of digital identity in the future. Therefore, this is not just about COVID, this is about something even bigger.”

So, with better, safer and more efficient ways to travel potentially on the horizon, 2021 could be a ground-breaking year that brings a new digital dynamism to an industry ready to spread its wings.

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