After more than a year of restricted travel around the world, we are beginning to see signs that a travel recovery is within reach. However, there are countries still being ravaged by Covid-19, such as India, where the situation remains dire. As parts of the world continue to move on from the damage wreaked by Covid-19, we are reminded that its global impact will not vanish overnight. Approximately 3.5 million lives have been lost to this terrible disease, according to official numbers, but the true count is almost certainly much higher.
The travel industry has been arguably the hardest hit from the pandemic with the sector’s contribution to global gross domestic product essentially cut in half, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, and international travel spending down by nearly 70%. These numbers can feel abstract, but they represent a human toll. Some 62 million travel and tourism jobs were lost last year, leaving millions of families without financial security.
For travel to fully recover, we must recover together. The travel industry and governments must work closely to create effective programmes that will stimulate travel, safeguard jobs and drive innovation to respond to our new reality. To achieve this, a co-ordinated effort must be undertaken in three key areas: ensuring equitable and widespread vaccine distribution, creating effective vaccine passport systems and developing consistent guidelines to encourage safe travel.
Equitable and widespread vaccine distribution
As vaccinations continue to ramp up in certain parts of the world, there is a clear correlation between recovering travel markets and countries with robust vaccine distribution plans, as is evidenced in places such as the US and the UK. While these signs are encouraging, so much of the world still lacks access to these life-saving vaccinations.
What matters most today is making vaccinations available to all. The world won’t be safe from this pandemic until the whole world is vaccinated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “a lack of supply and inequitable distribution of vaccines still remains the biggest threat to ending the acute stage of this pandemic and driving a global recovery”. Covax, a global collaboration led by the WHO to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, is doing important work, and it is encouraging to see countries such as Sweden contributing one million doses of the vaccine to the programme. In the US, the Biden administration pledged to distribute globally 20 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, in addition to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
These are examples of the increased international co-operation that will get vaccine doses to the world’s most vulnerable people, which is both a moral imperative and an economic one. While these are encouraging signs, we must be relentless in this fight. Businesses can also play a crucial role in encouraging people to receive vaccines. At Booking.com, we’re encouraging all of our employees to get vaccinated and are providing paid leave for employees to receive the vaccine.
We can already see evidence of the vital role vaccination plays in restarting travel, thanks to the EU’s recent decision to re-open European travel to the vaccinated, in time for their summer season, providing a huge boost for the industry. However, member states will still determine how to enforce this decision, which is why a system for proving vaccination status will become increasingly important moving forward.
Effective vaccine passport systems
It is paramount that we have a system that allows vaccinated people to travel more easily across borders. We recently co-signed a letter to the European Commission in support of Digital Green Certificates, which would help to remove confusion and streamline efforts to open countries within the EU to vaccinated travellers.
The establishment of effective vaccine passport systems would allow for more countries to lift restrictions, creating travel bubbles that help speed up the recovery of the industry. A transparent and comprehensible system for verifying vaccination status will be a major turning point in the recovery of the travel industry.
Consistent guidelines to encourage safe travel
Regardless of whether a vaccine passport becomes widespread, there are other initiatives that can help curb the spread of the virus and rebuild confidence in travel. However, the fractured advice given by different countries throws up hurdles for travellers. Today, travellers remain confused about what is expected of them across the globe. Is their vaccine accepted where they are going? Should they get tested? Do they have to be quarantined? These are all questions that must be easy to answer for travellers to feel confident venturing outside of their countries.
Looking at the UK’s ‘traffic light’ system, there still remains significant confusion around whether people can travel to certain countries on the “amber list” and what protocols they must follow to do so, with some ministers and officials discouraging travel altogether. The system was created to provide travellers with the proper guidance for how and where they should travel, but when there is conflicting messaging within governments, it undermines traveller confidence and stifles recovery for the industry.
If governments around the world came together to set forth specific guidance to promote safe travel, restrictions could be lifted and travellers would regain confidence. To point back to the EU Digital Green Certificates, in addition to proof of vaccination, travellers could also provide other forms of validation that would deem them as safe, including a negative Covid test or verification of having recovered from Covid recently.
Setting guidelines is just one step — how they are communicated and enforced is even more critical, and something we must get right.
While there’s still plenty of work to be done, I remain optimistic about the future of the travel industry, which I have been a part of for more than 21 years. I have seen the industry weather countless storms, and after each setback we see travel bounce back stronger than it had been before. This time will be no different, and through thoughtful collaborations between the industry, governments, international bodies and travellers eager to get moving, we can build an even better future for the travel industry than we saw before the pandemic.
It’s only through sustained and substantial support that we can build the widespread recovery we all want. The time to do so hasn’t passed — it’s just beginning.
Glenn Fogel is president and chief executive at Booking Holdings, and chief executive at Booking.com
This article first appeared in the June/July print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.