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Write it in Pencil

Welcome back to Philip James Travel!

Another week has zipped on by, and a ton of stuff has crossed my desk, and I have found that more and more of what I write is in pencil rather than ink. I never used to be a primary pencil user. I am now. It’s not that I’m tentative about things, or that I have errors to amend. It’s much more a realization that what I am working on will encounter changes, lots of them! It’s a matter of when, not if, changes will come, and how I or we will respond to them.

Considering and planning travel in pandemic times is not a simple matter. It’s also far from impossible. If you have the time and the resources and are nimble enough to patiently navigate the figurative and literal roadblocks that you’re likely to encounter (with my support, of course), then at least let’s start a conversation. It just takes a little more planning on the front end, and a very watchful eye as the months or weeks roll by with the announcements of new advisories.

Does it make sense to go anywhere now or in the coming months? That depends on you, where you want to go, and what your overall comfort level is. Some will immediately say, “Yes, get me out of here now!”. Others might take a more measured approach and scale down their plans. And there will be some cautious folks, who’ll defer for a year or more, and decide to travel on a larger scale or take a much more profound kind of trip.

Coming Soon: The ‘Vaccine Passport’

In the near future, travel may require digital documentation showing that passengers have been vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus. Answers to your questions.The challenge right now is creating a document or app that is accepted around the world, that protects privacy and is accessible to people regardless of their wealth or access to smartphones.

What is a vaccine pass or passport?

A vaccination pass or passport is documentation proving that you have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Some versions will also allow people to show that they have tested negative for the virus, and therefore can more easily travel. The versions being worked on now by airlines, industry groups, nonprofits and technology companies will be something you can pull up on your mobile phone as an app or part of your digital wallet. Some organizations like IBM have been developing a Digital Health Pass that would enable individuals to present proof of vaccination or a negative test to gain access to a public location, such as a sports stadium, airplane, university, or workplace. The pass, built on IBM’s blockchain technology, can utilize multiple data types, including temperature checks, virus exposure notifications, test results, and vaccine status. The World Economic Forum and the Commons Project Foundation, a Swiss nonprofit group, have been testing a digital health passport called CommonPass, which would allow travelers to access testing or vaccination information. The pass would generate a QR code that could be shown to authorities.

Why would I need a vaccine pass or passport?

As more people are inoculated, there will likely be aspects of public life in which only people who have been vaccinated are allowed to participate. In order to travel internationally, government and health authorities will need to know if you have been vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus. Many countries are already requiring proof of a negative test for entry. Such passes could be essential to restarting the tourism industry.

One key element vital for the restart of tourism is consistency and harmonization of rules and protocols regarding international travel. Evidence of vaccination, for example, through the coordinated introduction of what may be called ‘health passports’ can offer this. They can also eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival, a policy that is also standing in the way of the return of international tourism.

What are the objections to vaccine passports?

Mostly, the concerns center on privacy and data sharing. And for those without smartphones, the industry says it will accept paper proof, but even that needs to be standardized. And in a world where more than a billion people aren’t able to prove their identity because they lack passports, birth certificates, driver’s licenses or national identification cards, digital documents that show vaccine status may heighten inequality and risk, leaving many people behind.

What are the challenges to creating these digital passes?

Technologists and travel industry experts said that although it is possible to rush tech solutions that allow people to have one-use apps, creating long-lasting ethical technology or systems that will not store people’s data, or make it possible to track where they are, takes time. Now, in a very short period of time, we need to produce a digital credential that can be as universally recognized as a passport and it needs an even greater level of privacy because it’s going to be digital.

Thank you as always for reading my weekly newsletter. Please pencil me in if you have any questions, or suggestions for travel topics you'd like to read about.


“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936 – English writer, philosopher and lay theologian


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