2021 and the new travel reality – there is growing hope that vaccines will soon start to break down travel restrictions and deliver the rebirth of international travel, but what’s in store for 2021?

25 November, 2020

News of a coronavirus vaccine will support a return to international travel bookings, with people already looking forward to the point where vaccine availability will open up destinations. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister in the United Kingdom, where COVID-19 spread has been particularly prevalent, has said life could return to normal for its population by spring 2021 after another successful vaccine development.

Outside of the coronavirus vaccine situation, Peter Kern, CEO of Expedia Group has said his "sense is that people were getting increasingly comfortable with how safe air travel and hotels are" thanks to precautions taken by the tourism and travel industry, which has resulted in booking levels already "creeping up".

That's positive news, but, before the northern hemisphere spring, we are braced for a tough winter where restrictions will remain in place across many countries to safely manage infections before widespread vaccination programmes are implemented. And, of course, the problem with international travel is that it requires at least two countries to have effective vaccination programmes in place before we can see a return to some form of normality.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce has stated the Australian airline will "ask people to have a vaccination before they get on the aircraft" for international travel, as "for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country we think that's a necessity," he said in a recent interview.

Mr Joyce predicts vaccination requirements will become "a common thing talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe" and IATA this week discussed how a common digital health pass will support the safe reopening of borders. This has been initially based upon a testing structure but will also be required once vaccinations commence.

If you are fortunate enough to be among the first tranche to be vaccinated there is an obvious need to have a system whereby that information can be shared to enable safe and free travel across borders. In the old days it was all about a stamp in a little yellow book. That is still around in the case of some viruses such as Yellow Fever, but in modern day a virtual stamp will be sufficient.

Innovation and meaningful collaboration in the private sector is already delivering such solutions, including business-led initiatives, such as the AOKpass, a collaboration between the World Tourism Organisation of the United Nations (UNWTO) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which provides the foundations for practical post-pandemic recovery.

The ICC AOKpass mobile app is a privacy-preserving COVID-19 health status verification system that easily and securely verifies travellers have obtained mandatory negative PCR test results required for entry by a growing number of countries. Key partners in the app's development include health and security services business International SOS and SGS Group, an inspection, verification, testing and certification firm.

This time last year International SOS predicted a rise in infectious disease outbreaks and geopolitical instability would impact global travel during 2020, albeit nothing of the scale of COVID-19's unprecedented impact was in the thought process. "In 2020, turbulence really will be 'the new normal' for organisations - particularly if their operations (and their people) - cross national borders," is how it aptly opened up its Travel Risk Outlook 2020.

Its CEO, Arnaud Vaissié, said at the time of its publication: "Organisations need to strengthen their resilience to ensure continued operation and survival in the face of risks. In 2020, it will be pertinent to add a layer of predictability to an increasingly unpredictable and uncontrollable world." The phrase "unpredictable and uncontrollable world" couldn't have better described life in 2020.

International SOS is now bringing together industry thoughts, which alongside the views of its travel risk management council, country/region medical and security risk ratings, travel risk incident case data and on-the-ground medical and security intelligence will form the basis of its Travel Risk Outlook 2021.

Our audience can learn more at a series of regional webinars planned for 10-Dec-2020: