HomeOpinionWill Covid-19 vaccines be the saviour of tourism industry?

Will Covid-19 vaccines be the saviour of tourism industry?

By Adiel Mambara

THE shortcomings of globalisation in a pandemic setting has been characterised by tension between increasingly intensive transnational mobility of people and continuous territorial regulation of these flows.

In the case of SARSCov-2 (Covid-19),which has spread much quicker in a relatively short space of time, the situation has led to the increasingly selective opening and closing of borders, providing access to some in the name of ‘essential travel’ while keeping out others.

Consequently, travel restrictions are among a range of strategies that have been used to address global pandemics. Brownstein, et al. (2020) have presented supporting evidence to this view, showing that the grounding of airplanes in the United States after September 11, 2001 and the closing of borders delayed the dynamics of influenza during the 2001–2002 season by approximately two weeks.

While travel restrictions alone do little directly to mitigate the pandemic spread, the strategy certainly buys time in helping governments and all relevant stake holders to develop and deliver vaccines and at the same time extend non-pharmaceutical interventions (e.g., social distancing, public education etc).

Fast forward to 2021 as we see light at the end of the tunnel, countries are starting to look at different prospects for navigating their way out of this pandemic (Covid-19), which has felt like a lifetime!

Among developed countries (considered as high vaccinated countries) such as the United Kingdom (UK), progress in the vaccine roll out and testing technologies, together with low Covid-19 infection rates have reversed the transition toward normalcy.

Many of us in the aviation industry have long been calling on our respective governments to recognise vaccination certification for countries within the same territories, including high value inbound markets in removing restrictions, and finally our voices are beginning to be heard, but there is much more work to be done!

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) further supports this notion by stating, “Covid vaccines offer the hope of a return to pre-pandemic normality, for international travel it is important there is a globally consistent and standardised approach to minimize complexity. This is particularly critical regarding equivalent treatment of different vaccines and mutual recognition and acceptance of vaccination certificates. ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), WHO (World Health Organisation) and CAPSCA (Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation) should lead on ensuring harmonization in these areas”.

The UK was well ahead of most countries in the world by launching an internationally recognised vaccination programme, when on December8, 2020; 90-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first person to receive the Pfizer jab.

This has led to other national leaders scrambling to exploit the arriving-cavalry symbolism of flights carrying vaccines as aviation plays a critical role in the distribution of vaccines.

On January 16, 2021, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shared on social media a photograph of himself at Belgrade airport next to an Air Serbia Airbus A330 with Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccines on board.

Israel has been a pacesetter in vaccinating its population and ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often been photographed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport meeting vaccine consignments. If only they had all been quick to take responsibility to some of the disastrous policies first implemented when Covid first broke. Say no more!

Whilst there has been great progress with the vaccine roll out across developed nations there has also been vaccine hesitancy among some of the world’s populations, which has proven to be a persistent challenge and has impacted on governments around the world not achieving their required population-wide vaccination targets and restricting international travel.

Concerns regarding the development of vaccines within record breaking time of only 15 months compared to normal vaccine development that traditionally takes 10-15 years has raised many uncomfortable questions for companies manufacturing the vaccine, and opponents of vaccinations (anti-vaxxers) have never held such power in questioning the status quo!

Though I must admit that I am not a vaccine guru neither am I am anti-vaxxer, I do wish to point out that there is a strong argument emerging supported by the scientific data that current approved vaccines such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca reduce Covid-19 transmission significantly, though not to the same degree that they prevent severe disease.

In the UK at the time of writing, the UK’s world leading vaccinations programme has now weakened the link between positive Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions, which has seen international travel restrictions lifted.

Linked to vaccine distribution there is a debate that has gained fresh prominence about low income and middle-income countries (considered at-risk countries), who are being deprived of adequate vaccine supplies. They have argued that they have been side-lined by the high-income countries in gaining enough vaccines to cover a large proportion of their population, thereby further restricting both international outbound and inbound travel to and from these countries.

This coincides with some countries now making it a requirement for travellers to show evidence of vaccination as a condition of entry into their countries.

In Canada,Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced the government’s mandatory vaccine policy — a mandate that will require public servants to either get their vaccine shots by the end of October 2021 or be forced into an unpaid leave of absence.

Furthermore, all travellers must also be fully vaccinated by the end of October 2021 before boarding planes, trains, or marine vessels.

Among airlines who have also introduced vaccine mandates are: Air New Zealand has introduced a “no jab, no fly” policy for international travellers as well as its staff; In preparation for the resumption of its domestic and subsequently international flight services, AirAsia Malaysia has made it mandatory for only completely vaccinated adult guests to be allowed to board its flights, effective immediately. No doubt we will see many more airlines introducing similar vaccine mandates in the not-too-distant future.

As we now move into a new era (post pandemic) the nightmare of lockdowns is slowly coming to an end: governments are changing their travel policies, and travel agencies are booking international holiday packages again.

However, one thing is certain, after the pandemic people are likely to feel a renewed desire to travel again. These signs clearly indicate that there is a relationship between ‘pent up demand’ and ‘confidence’ which are both important in the recovery phase of the pandemic.

Confidence is essential as it is highly correlated to areas that have a combination of low restrictions or barriers to travel and an effective vaccine roll out.

The lifting of travel restrictions in the travel and tourism industry has been welcomed in an industry that has been devastated by the effects of this pandemic. It is also welcome news to see that social tolerance for vaccination mandates and incentives seem to be growing worldwide, with more European countries adopting digital vaccination passports and more governments and large employers implementing vaccine mandates.

Whatever you think about vaccine passports, if you want to travel overseas you are going to need one and this will likely be the norm in years to come!

I am sure we will continue to debate on whether a vaccine mandate should be applied to air travel as a potential ticket to freedom, but in my view, any strategy linked to giving us back our freedom of movement is a good thing. Only time will tell!

  • Mambara is a Zimbabwean, who has demonstrable working experience within the travel Industry for over the past 25 years. He has held senior management positions, working for British Airways Travel shops, Business Travel Management and currently heads Royal Brunei Airlines in the UK as their Country Manager. Additionally, he also holds Board positions with the Board of Airline Representatives UK (Baruk), Foreign Airline Association UK(FAA) and the University of West London Alumni Association.

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