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IATA’s travel pass, countries re-opening or reclosing, and steps forward for tourism revival

The travel and tourism industry is not yet healthy, and in fact, COVID-19 is seeing a resurgence in many countries, forcing the closure of airports or the introduction of strict measures that hamper the sector

Labs wishing to join the IATA Lab Network should confirm that they meet the eligibility criteria Emirates Airline is now using the IATA Travel Pass on flights to 10 cities around the world The sector lost nearly $4.5 trillion and 62 million jobs last year. Airlines alone lost $126 billion

The travel and tourism industry is not yet healthy, and in fact, COVID-19 is seeing a resurgence in many countries, forcing the closure of airports or the introduction of strict measures that hamper the sector.

Steps can be taken to make things easier while the globe grapples with the lingering effect of the pandemic and the COVID-19 variants wreaking havoc in many parts of the world. 

IATA registration portal  

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has launched a self-registration portal to make it easier for COVID-19 testing labs around the globe to join the IATA Travel Pass Lab Network.

Labs wishing to join the IATA Lab Network should confirm that they meet the eligibility criteria and register through the new Self Registration Portal. 

“Already IATA Travel Pass has an extensive network of labs which is rapidly expanding as more airlines use the IATA Travel Pass,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety, and Security.

Once labs have joined the IATA Travel Pass Lab network, passengers will be able to use the lab for COVID-19 testing prior to travel, securely uploading test results in IATA Travel Pass. This information is then checked against the IATA Timatic global registry of national health and entry requirements, to produce an “OK to Travel” status.

IATA Travel Pass Lab Network is a key element of IATA Travel Pass

Emirates Airline is now using the IATA Travel Pass on flights to 10 cities around the world. There are plans to extend it to all routes in the network within the next few weeks.

Emirates customers flying between Dubai and the following cities will be able to use the pass:

  • London
  • Barcelona
  • Madrid
  • Istanbul
  • New York JFK
  • Moscow
  • Frankfurt
  • Paris
  • Amsterdam

Read: Travel will be back but with major hurdles to overcome

Read: IATA urges governments to reconsider quarantine measures to fuel travel recovery

Travel and tourism regional openings

The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that the sector lost nearly $4.5 trillion and 62 million jobs last year. Airlines alone lost $126 billion last year and are on track to lose another $48 bn this year, according to their largest trade group.

The rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 is giving government officials in many countries new confidence to welcome visitors. But time is critical.

Here’s how different regions are trying to reopen to travel:

Europe

Europe has been opening slowly, testing the patience of Mediterranean countries that rely heavily on tourism, including Greece, Spain, and Turkey. That is changing now, as European Union ambassadors agreed last week to allow in visitors who are fully vaccinated or are from a now-expanded list of countries whose citizens are deemed to be safe.

Asia

The virus is surging again across parts of Asia, causing several nations to halt cautious steps they had been taking to reopen.

Hong Kong and Singapore postponed a quarantine-free “travel bubble” for a second time after a new outbreak, and Hong Kong lengthened mandatory quarantines for many unvaccinated visitors. 

China set up checkpoints at toll booths, airports, and train stations in Liaoning province, the site of new cases this month. 

Thailand, which closed its borders and managed to keep outbreaks under control for most of last year, gradually began allowing entry to some foreign visitors in the fall under strict controls. But the country reversed course when it became overwhelmed by its worst outbreak in late March.

Middle East and Africa

Abu Dhabi still has strict measures including mandatory quarantines, even for fully vaccinated residents returning from certain countries. But the UAE’s biggest city, Dubai, has opened its doors to travelers since last July with few restrictions beyond a negative COVID-19 test.

Meanwhile, Saudi is not permitting tourists into the country. Saudi citizens, who have largely been banned from travel since March 2020, can travel abroad starting this month if they have been vaccinated or recently recovered from the virus.

Egypt is trying to draw more foreign tourists even as it deals with a new wave of infections. It exempted beaches, cafes, and restaurants tied to tourist hotels from new restrictions. It even lowered the cost of tourist visas, although it still requires a negative COVID-19 test before entering the country.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Visitors to the tourism-dependent Caribbean tumbled by two-thirds last year to levels not seen since the 1980s. Bermuda was among the hardest hit, suffering an 84% drop.

A handful of islands, including Bonaire, Martinique and Montserrat, still ban travel from most countries. Elsewhere, tourists are trickling back under requirements that include electronic monitoring. Some islands, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, have created “bubble resorts” to take tourists.  

The U.S. Virgin Islands has been the region’s success story this year, with arrivals down a modest 27% from January through March. 

Mexico has no flight restrictions, no requirements for visitors to pass a test or quarantine upon arrival. That has kept a reduced but steady flow of tourists, especially to beach destinations.

US and Canada

The U.S. continues to bar most visitors from Europe, China, India, Brazil, and other places. Inbound international travelers, including American citizens, must pass a COVID-19 test before boarding flights. 

The border between the U.S. and Canada remained closed to nonessential travel through June 21.

Government actions needed

Pre-COVID-19, passengers, on average, spent about 1.5 hours in travel processes for every journey (check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim).

Current data indicates that airport processing times have ballooned to 3 hours during peak time with travel volumes at only about 30% of pre-COVID-19 levels. The greatest increases are at check-in and border control (emigration and immigration) where travel health credentials are being checked mainly as paper documents.

Modeling suggests that, without process improvements, the time spent in airport processes could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75% pre-COVID-19 traffic levels, and 8 hours per trip at 100% pre-COVID-19 traffic levels.

“Without an automated solution for COVID-19 checks, we can see the potential for significant airport disruptions on the horizon. And that is with many airports deploying pre-crisis level staffing for a small fraction of pre-crisis volumes. Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities. We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before traffic ramps up. Technical solutions exist. But governments must agree to digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.

The G20 has identified a similar solution. The G20 Rome Guidelines for the Future of Tourism called for a common international approach on COVID-19 testing, vaccination, certification, and information as well as promoting digital traveler identity.