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Safe Travels Post-Pandemic: Latest Efforts Underway In Digital Vaccine Passports

Is it safe to travel yet? As the COVID-19 vaccine is (slowly) rolling out, the answer to that question is inching ever closer to yes — but ensuring that everyone who chooses to travel has been inoculated remains a tricky goal. It’s a challenge that a new initiative called the Good Health Pass is aiming to take on.

The Good Health Pass isn’t a single solution from any particular entity, according to reports, but is rather a collaborative effort of businesses (including IBM and Mastercard), airlines, policymakers, healthcare industry groups and tech sector players, all working together to build what will essentially be a digital “health passport” that consumers can carry and use anywhere.

The goal of the initiative is to head off fragmentation, as there are already many efforts in play to develop a credentialing system for travelers. That list includes Health Pass by CLEAR, which is in use at the Los Angeles International Airport, the CommonPass system and the WHO’s digital vaccine certificate, which is currently under development. In April of 2020, British cyber technology company VST Enterprises rolled out a digital health passport called V-Health Passport for passengers and airlines in the U.K., an effort that is now looking to go global.

The trouble, noted Dakota Gruener — executive director of ID2020, a public-private partnership based in San Francisco that promotes privacy protection and portable, digital identity systems — is that there are too many unconnected passports.

“When it comes to international travel, there is an urgent and compelling need for digital health certificates to prove one’s test results or, increasingly, vaccination,” said Gruener. “Many efforts are being implemented by different airports and airlines with different solutions providers, but without guidance around standards, [so] there’s a real risk of fragmentation.”

The Good Health Pass initiative aims to solve that fragmentation problem by essentially bringing the fragments together under one umbrella, so no matter where people travel, they can present their vaccination/testing data and be good to go.

The goal is to get the largely grounded airline industry back up in the friendly skies. Airlines lost $118.5 billion in 2020, according to the International Air Transport Association, with another $38.7 billion in losses expected in 2021.

And as PYMNTS data strongly demonstrates, consumers are very focused on the vaccine, as 59 percent cite it as the single most important factor influencing whether or not they will get back to their pre-pandemic lives. That includes travel — but also things like shopping at stores, going to work, and seeing family and friends.

ShiftersShifters“This is not a first-world game. It’s a whole-world game,” said John Denton, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Commerce. It could also be a game-changer for the travel and tourism industries, which have lost a trillion dollars in revenue, according to Denton, and could stand to lose eight trillion more without widespread distributions of vaccines.

The good news, according to PYMNTS data, is that there is some appetite to resume traveling, as roughly 60 percent of the general population reports a desire to get back to domestic travel and about 20 percent want to get back to international travel. The less good news, particularly for international travel, is that there are a lot of things on the list ahead of it, including seeing friends and family and getting back to shopping at stores.

According to Michael Rossell, senior vice president of Airports Council International, the top priority is to get people to feel safe enough to fly the friendly skies and visit new locals. “Our interest in this is to get the industry moving again, and to get it moving in a way that can invoke trust from governments and passengers,” he said.

Challenges remain, particularly around privacy. Digital passports are an upgrade over their paper counterparts of the past, but they run the risk of being misplaced and revealing a patient’s private information. That means there is a high-end challenge in creating a passport that works across geographies and institutions to distribute health data to those who are supposed to have it, while locking everyone else out.

And succeeding in that initiative seems to be mandatory for travel to get back out on the road. Consumers won’t get moving until they feel safe — and they’ll accept no substitute for vaccines as the benchmark for that safety.

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About: Buy Now, Pay Later: Millennials And The Shifting Dynamics Of Online Credit, a PYMNTS and PayPal collaboration, examines the demand for new flexible credit options as well as how consumers, especially those in the millennial demographic, are paying online. The study is based on two surveys, totaling nearly 15,000 U.S. consumers.

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