Mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for travel would 'kill the sector', says tourism lobby head

So far, no country has made inoculation compulsory or said it would be required for people crossing borders. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - The rollout of vaccines against Covid-19 has intensified debate about whether they should be made mandatory, with the head of a major tourism lobby saying that doing so would cause irreparable harm to the struggling sector.

"I don't think governments will require vaccination next year" for travel, Gloria Guevara, head of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said at a press conference on Thursday (Dec 17). "If they do that they will kill their sector."

Those first in line to get the jabs include the elderly and vulnerable, who "are the last people who will travel," she said. Instead, rules for virus testing before departure are likely to be bolstered.

Alan Joyce, the chief executive officer of Qantas Airways, ignited an industrywide debate last month when he said proof of vaccination would be a condition for travelers entering or leaving Australia on the carrier's planes. So far, no country has made inoculation compulsory or said it would be required for people crossing borders.

Airlines are among the hardest hit by the health crisis, with global airline lobby IATA forecasting combined losses of $157 billion this year and next. When the broader tourism sector is added to the tally, the impact rises to US$3.8 trillion (S$5 trillion), Guevara said.

She was speaking at an event organized by the CommonTrust Network, a Swiss non-profit backed by the World Economic Forum that is rolling out a digital health system called CommonPass designed to certify test results to minimize the risk of fraud.

Tourism-dependent Aruba will start using the system in February to screen visitors, Dangui Oduber, minister for health, tourism and sport, said at the event. The Caribbean island is running a pilot project with JetBlue Airways for testing, but vaccination won't be on the agenda for at least the first half of 2021, he said.

The use of digital systems as a way to revive travel has had mixed results so far. The Rome airport started a corridor with some US destinations this month, but another one planned between Singapore and Hong Kong was postponed until next year amid a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

In addition to CommonPass, IATA is working on its own mobile app, the Travel Pass, and is planning a test program with British Airways parent IAG SA this year. The AOKpass from travel security firm International SOS is being used on flights between Abu Dhabi and Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan.

Outside of the airline industry, Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation, said hundreds of thousands of seafarers across the globe are still stranded on ships and unable to return home because of international travel restrictions.

"This humanitarian crisis, which also poses a significant risk to global supply chains, needs to be addressed in part through the introduction of internationally recognized certification of Covid-19 test results and of vaccinations," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.