The inability of governments to apply COVID travel regulations consistently – in alignment with one another, and based on science-backed evidence – has left our travel industry reeling.
In a desperate attempt to plug the gap, individual sectors of the industry have each tried to come up with solutions. Unfortunately, although commendable, this effort has been disjointed and uncoordinated, leading to further confusion among travellers.
What we need is for the travel industry to form an international coalition, to lobby governments around the world for the urgent instatement of a global standard of travel during the pandemic. This standard needs to establish an easy and safe way for international travel to re-open without the enforcement of unnecessary regulations that aren’t backed by science, and don’t result in solutions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For example, multiple countries have banned or restricted travel to and from South Africa on the basis that one of our laboratories was skilled enough to discover a new strain of COVID. The research didn’t indicate that the strain originated in SA, or that only South Africans had been exposed to it. All it showed was how competent our researchers are.
A media frenzy ensued, reporting the finding as the ‘South African Variant’, catapulting South Africa to pariah status in COVID terms, This prompted governments worldwide to close their borders to travellers from South Africa. Practically overnight, our travel and tourism industry was handed a massive set back. These bans and restrictions had no basis in science whatsoever, so where is the precedent for introducing them?
This is especially since governments already require testing to ensure that a traveller is found COVID-negative before they are allowed to embark on their journey. This test largely indicates whether a traveller is negative, regardless of the strain, and so it would seem rather nonsensical for an added ban or restriction to be put in place to prevent a small sanitised group of travellers from entering your borders.
On a global level, the travel industry is further faced with: governments enforcing different interpretations of COVID regulations; different processes around quarantine; and different methods of testing. This needs to stop. Surely we have the science to establish a global norm?
While it has certainly clarified the value of travel advisors – with essential travellers flocking to us for support as they attempt to decode the incomprehensible nature of COVID travel – it should also bring home the need for global collaboration, unless we want to ring the death knell on an $8.8 trillion industry (as reported by The World Economic Forum in 2019).
Quarantine is not a sustainable model for tackling the pandemic. It is a massive assault on the corporate travel industry – and amounts to a crisis. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reports that up to 50 million travel and tourism jobs are at risk around the world due to the current pandemic, and this could increase. Travel and Tourism, according to WTTC, supports one in 10 occupations worldwide, generating 320 million jobs.
Vaccination passports raise concerns as well. What are the long term implications for freedom of movement if we have to insist on passengers being vaccinated? The claim is that nobody will be forced to use the vaccination. But if we simultaneously limit their right to freedom of movement, can we still claim that they aren’t being pressurised into getting vaccinated against their judgement?
Further to this, we still don’t know how frequently they may have to vaccinate to qualify for travel. Will it be the same as yellow fever vaccinations – something that has to be continuously be updated – but now no matter where you want to travel?
We urgently require consistent, science-backed answers to these questions. The only way I envisage this happening is through the formation of a global travel industry coalition. A coalition that will work to ensure governments are aware of what the travel industry requires from them, in order to operate sustainably during this time, and where we believe they are going wrong.
This coalition will also need to work in conjunction with WHO and other global health organisations in order to successfully lobby governments, and ensure the establishment of, and adherence to, a global travel standard.
I am proud to announce that ASATA is working closely with a number of important global stakeholders to realise this goal. In the meantime, each member of the travel industry can work towards being a part of this cause. Let’s take this opportunity to create a co-ordinated effort and work for the common good of the industry.
Please also see a copy of the Global Travel Industry Advocacy Roundtable’s post-event messaging from 2 March, 2021, here.
Otto de Vries
CEO of ASATA and Board Member of WTAAA
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