When will we be able to travel again?

Dozens of tech companies, international travel agencies, and even governments are racing to bring us digital health passes in hopes to reopen the world. But will it be enough to get travelers in the air again?  


Throughout the past twelve months, the common thread between different countries across the globe has been the pandemic’s significant impact on people’s mobility. But as countries progressively begin to reopen their borders and recall visa bans, many have started to wonder whether the freedom of global mobility will ever be the same.


The future of mobility

As an industry leader specializing in investor programs for residence and citizenship, Arton Capital works in tangent with over a dozen governments to help attract foreign direct investments — many of whom have used the global lockdown as an opportunity to increase diplomatic ties and strengthen their passports.

Given the clear volatility of passports, however, holding one powerful passport no longer poses an advantage. It has now become evident that true freedom of mobility lies in securing two or more passports for improved global access, proper shelter and healthcare, and additional protection from more than one state.


Rise of vaccination passports

But it won’t end there. With vaccination programs underway in many parts of the world, the next question on everyone’s mind is: When will we have digital vaccine passports (DVPs)? And will they be the ticket to restarting travel?

Possibly, but we’re not quite there yet. Various governments, airlines, tech companies and travel organizations are still hard at work, racing to develop DVPs or health certificates with the potential to be adopted internationally.

As one example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently introduced an open-source DVP app, dubbed the “Travel Pass,” which enables passengers to share COVID-19 test results, log vaccination certificates, check entry requirements and find testing sites. Earlier this year, IATA partnered with Air New Zealand, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Copa Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Qatar, RwandAir, Malaysia Airlines, and the International Airlines Group to trial the app.

“COVID-19 tests and vaccinations will be key to get the world flying again,” shared Mohammad Al Bulooki, Chief Operating Officer, Etihad Aviation Group, in a statement. “A high priority for Etihad is for our guests to have an easy, secure and efficient way to identify and verify their information.”

Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum also teamed up with the Commons Project Foundation to develop CommonPass, a digital health passport that enables travelers to show their testing and vaccination certificates via a QR code. Trials are underway with United Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Separately, in February, Denmark’s government said it was developing its own DVP app, and other countries are expected to follow suit – either with an app or a digital vaccine certification. Places like Iceland, Poland, Sweden, Estonia and Greece have already created digital vaccine certificates, and Israel is currently conducting a trial with Cyprus.

Tech corporations have also moved swiftly to find solutions. IBM, for instance, rolled out its Digital Health Pass early in 2021, aiming to facilitate entry to offices, schools and stadiums, as well as planes and hotels. Built using blockchain technology, the solution is designed to enable organizations to verify health credentials for employees, customers and visitors while protecting their privacy.


Digitization of data

While some governments might adopt DVPs to use within specific corridors or in a regional context, Scowsill does not foresee widespread international adoption on the scale of traditional passports happening anytime soon. “Electronic vaccination passports will not gain complete global acceptance due to implementation complexity and discrimination against those who do not participate,” says David Scowsill, a travel industry veteran currently on the Finn Partners Travel Advisory Board.

“Pressure to open borders will be on governments that rely heavily on tourism to drive jobs and GDP growth. But [COVID-19] recovery will be slow, by country, and by segment – with each nation policing internally and being selective about who to let in.”

In my opinion, if stakeholders can get the recipe right – digitization, verification, standardization, security, equity and privacy – we could see a return to travel as early as 2021, though 2022 is more likely.

The most likely scenario would be for vaccinated travelers to skip quarantines, or quarantine for shorter periods, while unvaccinated passengers continue to adhere to strict testing, quarantine and restrictions. Such a scenario could enable the World Openness Score, which plunged from 21,360 in 2019 to 15,503 in 2021, to begin a rebound. The World Openness Score is a real-time barometer of global mobility and ‘openness’ between countries that was created and monitored by the Passport Index.

In the next two to three years, I think the normality of the Passport Index rankings and the World Openness Score will return as vaccines are adopted and restrictions are lifted. This could even jumpstart the death of the passport as we know it.

As people become owners of their own  data, they will be more comfortable sharing health data, biometrics, and so on, at required checkpoints. Consequently, while passports will physically hold less pages, they will become more intelligent and hold even more distinct and valuable data, before eventually becoming a secure string in a sovereign cloud controlled by each nation. The machine-readable standard currently in use was just the beginning.

With every global challenge, comes a global solution. Travelling responsibly with the notion that our world is becoming a global village will ensure that every citizen adopts a sense of responsibility for the rest of the world.

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