TORONTO — So far Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s opposed to vaccination passports, but more and more countries are looking to bring them in, and some are already onboard.
Travel agents we spoke to say they can see the upsides – anything that can jumpstart travel after almost a year of pandemic restrictions would be welcome – but they call for caution, too.
Both Denmark and Sweden are setting up systems for a digital vaccine certificate – effectively, a vaccination passport – that the countries see as key to restarting travel safely post-pandemic. In Iceland, international arrivals with proof of vaccination don’t have to quarantine. Israel and Greece just announced an agreement earlier this week allowing vaccinated travellers to move freely between the two countries, with no restrictions.
Meanwhile reports in consumer and trade media in the UK indicate that the UK government, initially resistant to vaccination passports, may be coming around to the idea too.
At last month’s Reuters Next Conference, Trudeau said he opposes vaccination passports. “I think the indications that the vast majority of Canadians are looking to be vaccinated will get us to a good place without having to take more extreme measures that could have real divisive impacts on community and country,” he said.
However the travel agents we spoke to say any streamlined, common sense measure to get travel restarted safely can’t come soon enough.
“A GREAT STEP FORWARD TO RESUMING TRAVEL”
“I totally agree with the vaccination passport,” says Sandy Willett, a branch manager with Vision Travel.
There’s already a precedent, she adds. “This would add easily accessible and verifiable certification for travellers – just like the yellow fever requirement that has been in place for years for certain countries.”
Some companies, like Globus family of brands, have begun looking at making these mandatory for travel, as Willett notes.
Earlier this week Globus alerted the trade that starting April 2021, all passengers on trips with any of the four Globus family of brands companies – Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways – must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, test or recovery before travel.
Travel agent Carrie Anne Gillespie calls the announcement from Globus “a great step forward to resuming travel”. She adds that a vaccination passport is the only way to confidently move forward as an industry.
Says Gillespie: “A vaccination passport can provide a security blanket to clients who want to get back out there. Also, it can provide hope for the many countries that heavily rely on the income the travel industry brings.”
Ayesha Patel, a travel consultant with The Travel Agent Next Door, says that if making vaccine passports mandatory meant that countries could reopen their borders safely, it will most likely be accepted as the norm. “There may be a small group of people who may not like the idea, but the majority of people will feel it’s just another necessary layer of safety,” says Patel.
The technology is there, she adds. “A digital platform provides a verifiable and tamper proof form of documentation … a vaccination passport also provides up to date requirements for vaccination and testing to avoid any ambiguity or confusion especially now with entry requirements being so fluid.”
There are plenty of positives when it comes to vaccination passports, but agents are well aware of the potential pitfalls too. There’s some vaccination hesitancy in Canada, the U.S. and around the world, and only time will tell how long the vaccine’s protection lasts. “Until we know more about this virus and the vaccine – how long does it last and can someone that has had the vaccine still pass on the virus – we may have to wait – but in the future I can definitely see it being a good thing,” says Willett.
Kim Hartlen, who heads up Kim Hartlen Travel TPI in Lower Sackville, NS, says testing, not vaccination passports, should be the priority. “I believe we should focus more on testing prior to travel and on arrival with a reasonable quarantine duration, as Canada is lagging in vaccine, we are #38 on list of countries that have been vaccinated. It is a disadvantage for Canadians for the vaccine passport – we will not travel anywhere!!”
In the meantime the travel industry is still in freefall, and there’s still no word on a bailout that could help the airlines, and, potentially, travel agents.
Gillespie, who based in Regina, SK, says the prolonged slump in air travel demand means that Regina Airport is even in danger of losing its control tower. That could have long-term ramifications when it comes to major carriers like Air Canada continuing service to the city in the years ahead. “The ATC layoffs affected our airport greatly and now the city is on the verge of losing the tower,” says Gillespie. “If we do, chances are they won’t bring it back.”
“This is all lingering on too long, hopefully the government starts seeing the help we need as an industry is essential and not frivolous.”