After a year when the COVID-19 virus has devastated the world’s tourism industry and thwarted vacation plans of millions of travelers, vaccinations have arrived that offer hope that 2021 may usher in some return to normalcy.
And none too soon for baby boomers, who have seen precious travel time and opportunities slipping away: cruises cancelled, tours postponed, bucket-list destinations closing their borders.
The fact that all this has been necessary to curb the ravages of the killer virus doesn’t make it any less painful — especially when you factor in the economic toll on tourism-dependent destinations. Estimates are that one in ten jobs worldwide are travel- and tourism-related.
And it’s not just airlines, cruise lines and big hotels that are hurting. As Scott Keyes, CEO of Scott’s Cheap Flights, puts it: “That humble bed-and-breakfast in Hamburg and that mom-and-pop tour agency in Lagos are eager to welcome tourists again, as soon as it’s safe, because their livelihoods depend on it.”
Keyes, who has been closely tracking the course of the pandemic and how it’s affected tourism since last spring, offers this timely update on how international travel, especially, will be impacted by the vaccines that are here now and yet to come.
Here’s Keyes’ analysis:
Proof of vaccination likely will not be required for domestic travel within the United States.
While there are significant restrictions on international travel to the U.S,, virtually none exist on domestic travel. You can hop on a domestic flight today without having to even show a negative test, much less proof of vaccination.
As vaccines become broadly available and travel demand picks up, travel restrictions should begin to ease. With so few restrictions on domestic travel today—at the height of the pandemic—it’s unlikely that new requirements will be implemented as the pandemic begins to recede. (Sidenote: I would expect airplane mask requirements to persist at least through the end of 2021.)
️ Proof of vaccination likely will be required for international travel
A few dozen countries permit American travelers today, but of course, most countries are temporarily closed.
Once vaccines start becoming widely available, countries that are currently inaccessible—including tourist favorites like Japan, New Zealand, and much of Europe—will begin opening up, but likely only for vaccinated travelers.
As countries require proof of vaccination, frontline enforcement will likely be shouldered by airlines, much as they do with passports.
Think back to the last time you flew internationally. A passport is required at your destination, but it’s the airline that does the first check before you board — because they have to fly you home if you don’t have a passport and aren’t allowed in.
And airlines are likely to play the same role with proof of vaccination.
Proof of vaccination in order to enter a country is colloquially known as a vaccine passport.
There are two possibilities for what this could look like: analog or digital.
When you get a COVID-19 vaccine today, you’re given a little white card. You may have to show this to border officials, much like certain countries require you to show a “yellow card” to prove you’ve been vaccinated against yellow fever and other diseases.
The more likely prospect is an app.
The process would be simple—you upload your proof of vaccination to the app, which generates a QR code that gets you through immigration. A number of free apps are under development by international organizations, with a Swiss nonprofit called CommonPass seemingly the furthest along.
Once international destinations begin opening up, I think it’s likely that either proof of vaccination or a recent negative test will be sufficient for travelers.
Similarly, while the U.S. just announced a new rule requiring a negative test before entering the country, including for U.S. citizens returning from abroad, I would expect this will change to either a negative test or proof of vaccination.
Vaccine passports will be one more item on travelers’ pre-trip checklists — but for tens of millions of people who’ve been stuck at home during these godforsaken times, it’s a small price to pay.
When will international travel resume?
International travel will likely resume, in Hemingway’s maxim, “gradually and then suddenly.” As vaccines roll out and a few countries begin re-opening, expect a cascade effect.
I would be surprised if places like Europe, Japan, and elsewhere currently closed to Americans weren’t open again by this summer. Spain, for instance, just announced its intention to open by April.
There are variables that could push that date back—a hampered vaccine rollout, or the path of more transmissible strains like the UK variant.
But there are also factors that could improve the timetable: accelerated vaccine rollout, more vaccine candidates getting approved (such as the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine), and warmer weather allowing more outdoor activities, where risk is lower.
With millions of people getting vaccinated around the world every day, there is reason for optimism.
— Scott Keyes is the founder and CEO of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
My Note to Readers: We are still in the most deadly stage of the COVID-19 virus here in the U.S. and in many other parts of the world. I do not recommend extended leisure travel at this time, for your safety and that of others. If most of us get vaccinated as soon as possible, wear masks, and maintain social distancing while away from home, we can be well on our way to defeating this virus in the months ahead — and once again turn travel dreams into reality.