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With many travelers forgoing seasonal trips this year, it’s safe to assume that a fair portion of us are dreaming about vacations of Christmas past.
But escapism may soon take place in real life again, as a new travel option is on the horizon: the IATA Travel Pass Initiative, launching soon from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a global, standardized solution.
What Is the IATA Travel Pass Initiative?The IATA Travel Pass Initiative is a digital platform that will allow air passengers to readily find out what tests, vaccines and other measures are required of them prior to travel, as well as receive details on where they can get tested or vaccinated. It will also allow them to confirm and share their results in a verifiable, safe and privacy-protecting manner.
The initiative seeks to address three major challenges to accurate health information worldwide: non-standardized testing requirements for entry and exit; the information gap for travelers; and inefficiencies, errors and fraud in test documents. The travel pass incorporates four open-sourced and interoperable modules that can be used in combination with other providers or as an end-to-end solution.
Travelers are used to checking specific vaccine requirements like yellow fever for entry into certain countries, and I think any consistency on how the world is handling COVID-19 will be part of society’s path to living with this virus and limiting its spread.
Ultimately, the initiative’s goal is to allow for the return of safe travel. IATA’s travel pass modifies an existing system that will enable passengers to create a “digital passport” confirming they’ve met all the requirements needed for their trip. This will both facilitate their own travel and demonstrate that systematic pre-departure COVID-19 testing can successfully replace quarantine requirements.
As there are other solution providers in the market, the IATA pass’ four modules are meant to be flexible to allow for incorporation and cohesion. It should be noted that the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), Airports Council International, World Economic Forum and International Chamber of Commerce recently warned against the introduction of “health passports” versus internationally- recognized travel passes that are currently under consideration. (WTTC has its own Safe & Seamless Traveller Journey initiative that encompasses both air and non-air travel, and uses systematic biometric verified identification.)
What do Travel Advisors and Suppliers Think About the New Initiative? Travel advisors and suppliers have given mixed reviews about the new IATA Travel Pass Initiative, though overall, their outlook is positive.
“The IATA Travel Pass is a must to get travel back on track and to give travelers the peace of mind of knowing that when they get on that long-haul flight, all the passengers and flight crew have presented a negative PCR test prior to boarding,” said Donna Alkarmi, president of Lonestar Travel.
For Steve Born, chief marketing officer for the Globus Family of Brands, his first impression was also optimistic.
"The concept provides a consistent, convenient and clear way for international travelers to know that they’re safe to travel,” he said. “A universal tool like this will lift a burden from destinations, airports and travel suppliers of trying to design independent ‘safe travel’ measures.”
A universal tool like this will lift a burden from destinations, airports and travel suppliers of trying to design independent ‘safe travel’ measures.
But there is certainly some trepidation about the implementation of the IATA Travel Pass.
"It sounds great in theory, and I’m in support of anything that will allow travel to recover quicker, safely and efficiently, but how is this going to be communicated to the general public and widely/quickly adopted as the central resource for travelers seeking the most aggregated, up-to-date, reliable information?” asks Joni Wu, an independent luxury leisure and corporate advisor with Luxe Travel Management, a Frosch Company.
Will the New IATA Pass Affect Bookings?While the advisors and suppliers we spoke with agree that this initiative is a positive for the industry and will allow travelers to feel confident about their health before and during a trip, some acknowledged that the travel pass could be an obstacle to bookings.
"I do feel that my clients who take two to three trips a year may feel this is a hindrance and elect to take one longer trip,” Alkarmi said. “Besides the cost of the PCR test, will there be fees associated with this new technology? And where will this burden lie — with the passenger, government or airline, or a combination of all three?”
Besides the cost of the PCR test, will there be fees associated with this new technology? And where will this burden lie — with the passenger, government or airline, or a combination of all three?
Both Alkarmi and Kristin Karst, co-owner and executive vice president of AmaWaterways, note that bookings could be negatively impacted if there’s not protocol uniformity.
“Travelers are used to checking specific vaccine requirements like yellow fever for entry into certain countries, and I think any consistency on how the world is handling COVID-19 will be part of society’s path to living with this virus and limiting its spread,” Karst said.
Is This a Turning Point for the Industry?Only time will tell if the IATA pass will be a turning point for the industry, but it’s clear that advisors, suppliers and travelers alike are hungry to be on the move again. And, if the travel pass works as anticipated, it will allow governments to feel confident in reopening borders without quarantine restrictions, as well as allow for a comeback of industry jobs.
But some advisors are wary.
"I don’t think it will be a turning point, but it can’t hurt,” said Wu of Luxe Travel. “Look at Mobile Passport: It was such a time-saver and easy to use; yet, still, few utilized it. Perhaps I’m jaded, but I think that realistically, getting this travel pass program together, countries to buy in, and the information disseminated to travelers on a broad scale is going to be difficult. I hope with the vaccine and travel recovering, it may not even be necessary by then.”
RELATED: Some Say a COVID-19 Vaccine Will Be a Turning Point for Travel. Will It?
Karst, meanwhile, believes the turning point will not necessarily be travel initiatives, but rather, COVID-19 vaccinations.
"I believe the widespread acceptance of COVID-19 vaccinations will be the turning point, allowing transmission rates to drop and a return to a more normal accessibility of tourist facilities,” she said. “Any universal app to track that will certainly help smooth out the travel experience and add an additional layer of protection and peace of mind for many international travelers.”
Globus’ Born echoes this sentiment.
“Along with the Travel Pass concept, there are several wheels in motion pointing to a return to travel, including testing advances and, of course, the vaccine’s arrival.”
The DetailsIATA Travel Pass Initiativewww.iata.org/en/programs/passenger/travel-pass