Technological advances, enhanced mobility and more affordable travel have enabled an unprecedented rise in the number of travellers over the past few decades with more than 1.5 billion people crossing borders for business or leisure, with billions more travelling domestically every year. But even before Covid-19 arrived there has been an increase in political risks and geopolitical instability that has required more stringent security checks and processes, putting pressure on often outdated systems which are already strained.
Latest annual research from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) shows the Travel & Tourism sector experienced +3.5% growth in 2019, outpacing that of the global economy (+2.5%) for the ninth consecutive year. According to WTTC’s 2020 Economic Impact Report, during 2019, Travel & Tourism was responsible for one in 10 jobs (330 million total), making a 10.3% contribution to global GDP and generating one in four of all new jobs.
That travel environment has now changed significantly in the space of just six months, but work into supporting the industry with new travel processes and the deployment of innovative technologies, such as biometrics, can continue to support its economic importance, while ensuring that travel is safe, secure and seamless.
WTTC has defined a global vision for the Safe & Seamless Traveller Journey which enable a seamless, safe and secure end-to-end traveller journey encompassing both air and non-air traveller touchpoints. It sees systematic biometric verified identification at each stage of the journey replacing today’s manual identity verifications. These solutions, it says, will “capitalise on several opportunities including improving the customer experience, creating a frictionless experience at touchpoints, improving security, health safety, and promoting commercial benefits to travel providers”.
Its new guidelines for safe and seamless travel include testing and tracing, following medical evidence, to ensure people can enjoy safe Travels in the ‘new normal’. WWTC says the detection and isolation of those people with the virus has proved to be an effective mechanism to curb previous outbreaks. “This has enabled them to travel again without a vaccine, as in previous outbreaks such as Ebola, SARS and MERS. Since 80 % of COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic according to medical experts, testing and tracing becomes crucial to control and reduce the transmission,” it explains.
WTTC’s its new guidelines were produced by extensive consultation with various stakeholders, including WTTC Members, health experts and government officials, and according to World Health Organisation (WHO) and US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, and ICAO CART Take off guidance.
It says the resulting principles and recommendations will help governments who require testing, tracing, receipt of a traveller test/vaccination certificate and Covid-19 specific traveller health insurance to include them as part of their overall recovery plan. “By encouraging their global adoption, WTTC aims to ensure aligned and consistent messaging through coordinated, collaborative, and transparent partnerships across the Travel & Tourism sector,” it explains.
The new WTTC guidelines have been developed to replace what its president and CEO, Gloria Guevara, describes as a “confusing mix of different measures” which include “highly-damaging quarantines” which will offer confidence to travellers and governments alike while protecting public health.
She acknowledge that travel ‘bubbles’ or ‘corridors’ between low-risk Covid-19 areas/zones or countries will also “help limit testing requirements for travellers and support efforts by governments and private businesses working in partnership together to stimulate traveller demand”.
WTTC has identified five critical calls to action to governments during the Covid-19 recovery:
- Support quick and reliable tests as a critical path to ensure public health and a rapid testing and contact tracing strategy to help contain the spread of the virus;
- Multilateral collaboration and adherence to internationally recognised guidelines to enable ‘approved travellers’ to travel across to multiple destinations using a single process and risk assessment framework;
- Support travel ‘bubbles’ or ‘tourism corridors’ between low-risk COVID-19 areas/zones or countries based on recognised criteria on what constitutes low, medium and high risk and where the origin government and the destination government agree. These bubbles and corridors may help to limit testing requirements for travellers and support the recovery;
- Remove blanket travel advisories and recommendations against non-essential international travel as this prevents insurance protection for travellers, as countries re-open;
- Support a global standard of traveller health insurance, or at least minimum requirements, defined with private sector insurance companies.