The Golden Ticket
Bloomberg Businessweek|March 29 - April 05, 2021
Companies and countries that depend on travel or large gatherings are counting on the unproven concept of vaccine passports
Christopher Jasper, Angus Whitley, and Eleni Chrepa, with Charles Penty, Henrique Almeida, and Mary Schlangenstein

In a harbor on the Greek island of Paxos, Panagiotis Mastoras checks over his fleet of pleasure craft and counts down the days to the return of the tourists who fuel the economy of the 8-mile speck in the Ionian Sea. For the rental-boat skipper, the easing of travel curbs imposed as the Covid-19 outbreak swept the world appears tantalizingly close. Greece said it would welcome back visitors starting on May 14, as long as they’ve had a vaccination, recovered from the coronavirus, or tested negative before flying out. “It’s the safest way,” says Mastoras, one of 850,000 people working in a holiday sector that accounted for almost a quarter of Greece’s gross domestic product before the pandemic, the highest proportion in Europe. “We’ve reached a point where it can’t go on like this.”

Greece is at the forefront of a bid to revive travel with the help of so-called vaccine passports— certificates or digital cards testifying to the apparent low-risk status of their holders—which is gaining traction in tourist-reliant economies from the Caribbean to Thailand. Businesses that have suffered a yearlong battering from the pandemic are also coming to view the passes as a route to salvation. The International Air Transport Association estimates the industry could lose $95 billion in cash in 2021 after the worst year on record. Airlines have supported a number of tech solutions to verify passengers’ Covid vaccination or testing results, such as the IATA Travel Pass app or the AOKpass from French travel security company International SOS (page 17).

But a lack of standards could hinder such efforts. “There has been a lot of advocacy, but the execution has been sorely lacking,” says Jeffrey Goh, who heads the Star Alliance of 26 carriers. Singapore Airlines has begun a trial of IATA’s app, as has Qatar Airways. TUI AG, the world’s biggest tour operator, says vaccine passports will be key to resuscitating its business. And Carnival Corp.’s U.K.-based P&O Cruises has stipulated that no one can board its ships this summer without proof of vaccination.

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