Will a digital vaccine passport deter older Canadians from travelling abroad?

Will a digital vaccine passport deter older Canadians from travelling abroad?

TORONTO — Canada’s ‘vaccine passport’ is coming, as early as the fall, ushering in a new era of international travel in the midst of COVID-19.

Although the idea of proof of vaccination has stirred up controversy around the world in recent months, particularly in the United States in destinations like Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis passed a vaccine passport ban in May, a country-wide vaccination system has, by and large, been well received here in Canada. According to Travelweek’s 2021 Consumer Travel Survey, which polled 2,599 Canadians in June, an overwhelming 94% of respondents said that they plan to get vaccinated once eligible, with 53.5% in full favour of vaccination passports for international travel. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced in June a two-track proof of vaccination system for Canada, the first track allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to upload their COVID-19 test results and quarantine plans via the ArriveCAN app. Though few details about the second track – the upcoming national solution – have been revealed, we do know that it is being coordinated in conjunction with provinces and territories and that it will be largely digital, whereby travellers will need to show proof of vaccination on their mobile devices. 

While a paper option will be available to those who’d prefer one, the digital passport could potentially deter certain Canadians from travelling internationally, particularly snowbirds and older travellers who may not be as tech-savvy as younger demographics. According to the Canadian Snowbird Association, of its 115,000 members, approximately 10% travel without mobile devices.

What would this mean for older travellers? How will a mandatory vaccine passport impact their future travel plans? We asked three industry experts…

JILL WYKES, SNOWBIRD ADVISOR

Wykes, Editor of Snowbird Advisor, an online resource for Canadian snowbirds, tells Travelweek that contrary to popular belief, most snowbirds are actually tech-savvy “because they travel for long periods each winter, with most using online banking” and other online resources. But of course, she adds, “there will be a few who might struggle with a digital version.”

Snowbird Advisor estimated last winter that approximately 30-35% of snowbirds travelled. More recently, a survey it conducted found that 90% intended to travel this year (although this was before the start of the fourth wave in the southern United States and other areas). 

It’s apparent that older travellers are not hesitating to head abroad, however, the biggest challenge they face won’t be a digital vaccine passport, says Wykes. 

“It’s the requirements of each destination with regard to vaccine status that is going to be the issue. I don’t think the passport is making people apprehensive – it’s knowing what the rules are and keeping up to date with all of that,” she says. “But travel agents play a valuable role in providing all the entry requirements with regard to vaccine status, testing and more for snowbird clients.”

MICHELLE SUGGETT, FLIGHT CENTRE TRAVEL GROUP

Suggett also agrees with Wykes, saying that snowbirds and older travellers seem to be bucking the stereotype of them being unfamiliar about technology, noting that they are adept at using systems like Nexus. 

“Throughout the pandemic our older clientele has embraced the digital journey in order to deal with virtual payment acceptance, e-invoices and more, so technology is becoming less and less of a hurdle for them. There is some concern about the ease of use but overall they welcome a layer of certainty around safety, both for themselves and those that may be travelling with them,” says Suggett. 

This is especially good news for travel agents, she adds, as an increase in confidence among travellers will likely lead to increased bookings. 

“Safety is their biggest concern and knowing that there are checks and balances in place and that other travellers will need to be vaccinated will go a long way in providing that confidence,” she says.

When asked how travel agents can assist their snowbird and mature clients who may have a hard time adapting to the new vaccine system, Suggett stresses the importance of being proactive.

“Reach out to them and find out if they have any concerns about the vaccine passport and how you might be able to alleviate those concerns. Try to find out, test and/or get feedback on real experiences with the vaccine passport once it’s up and running so that you can walk through the system with them and answer any questions as needed. Being a resource to them and providing added comfort will only increase your value as a trusted advisor,” says Suggett.

CHRISTINE JAMES, TL NETWORK

James, Vice President Canada, tells Travelweek that while going digital will clearly be a challenge for some snowbirds and older travellers, it won’t be a major obstacle as there will be a simple paper option available to them. Plus, snowbirds typically only take one trip over the entire winter season, and even with the ArriveCan app that’s currently available, Health Canada still recommends carrying a paper document as a backup.

When asked whether the vaccine passport will deter older travellers from booking a trip, James says it will likely have the opposite effect.

“Most Canadian travellers today have been fully vaccinated and would feel more peace of mind knowing that all their fellow passengers were also taking similar precautions,” says James.

The only challenge James sees among this demographic with regard to the vaccine passport is not having anyone on hand to assist them with the application process. 

Her advice to travel agents, who can potentially help with the process? “Be patient, be prepared to answer their questions and, if necessary, offer to walk them through it.”