When Australians once again take to the skies for overseas trips they won’t just need a ticket, but also a vaccine passport.
Qantas is set to introduce digital COVID-19 vaccine passports, paving the way for what some say will be a more ‘seamless’ travel experience.
The nation’s biggest airline confirmed this week that it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all international travellers when Australia’s borders reopen and introduce a ‘digital health pass’ to verify that passengers are inoculated.
The airline is working with the International Air Transport Association to roll out the IATA Travel Pass on international Qantas and Jetstar flights when they resume.
The move comes as international travel gradually resumes around the world, with England announcing it would allow travellers from the US and European Union who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter without the need to quarantine from August 2.
Australians are currently limited to domestic travel with the New Zealand travel bubble suspended as Sydney battles the Delta variant.
But the return of the NZ travel bubble, and future travel bubbles with countries such as Singapore, could occur later this year, and the reopening of international borders is expected in early-to-mid 2022.
The pandemic has made vaccine passports the new normal for international travel, said Tom Manwaring, chair of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents.
“These health checks will become normal processes, similar to presenting your passport and security checks,” Mr Manwaring said.
Qantas stokes hope with vaccine passports
Qantas announced its vaccine passport plan following trials of both IATA’s Travel Pass and CommonPass’s digital health app on international repatriation flights.
The IATA vaccine passport will come in the form of Qantas’ ‘digital health’ smartphone app that allows travellers to securely store and present a certificate of vaccination, and the results of pre-departure coronavirus tests.
Mr Manwaring there were “really good reasons to be optimistic” about international travel returning as Australia’s vaccine rollout gathers pace.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that “by the end of the year, people who have wanted to have the vaccine will have had that opportunity”.
If the majority of Australians are vaccinated by the end of the year “we can look with some confidence to doing some travelling in 2022”, Mr Manwaring said.
He hopes Australians will be able to confidently book international trips by Christmas.
“Importantly for the travel agents, the booking process is normally three to six months before travel. That’s the key to cash flow returning to travel agencies,” Mr Manwaring said.
“So by Christmas, we would hope that we can start to see a booking pattern for travel in 2022, particularly the summer of ’22 in the northern hemisphere.”
A more ‘seamless’ travel experience
The pandemic has fast-tracked changes to airline travel and will result in a more “seamless” experience for travellers, said Ted Dunstone, a founder of Biometix and international biometric standards-accredited BixeLab.
“Seamless travel” means “you’re spending less time presenting stuff or documentation to people, and more time just travelling”, Dr Dunstone said.
“There’s an absolutely no doubt that this period of time has accelerated that,” he said.
“Although nobody’s travelling at the moment, all of the back-end infrastructure around the world, in Australia as well, is going through an overhaul.”
Over the course of the pandemic, the industry has gone “through a phase where probably we’ve had 10 years of development in less than two years”, Dr Dunstone said.
“So I think as people do return to travel, they are undoubtedly going to find the experience quite different from how they previously experienced it.”
As digital health apps such as the IATA Travel Pass become the new normal for international travel, Dr Dunstone said safeguarding privacy and maintaining consumer trust was key.
“It’s really important that any of these applications are independently tested and evaluated,” he said.
“Consumer trust is absolutely key. And you can’t get that trust unless you have appropriate independent certifications.”