International travel can safely restart, without waiting for vaccines, says WTTC and industry bodies

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and major international industry bodies have joined forces to call for the immediate restoration of international travel using proven processes and without waiting for or requiring vaccinations.

WTTC, which represents the global Travel & Tourism private sector, along with Airports Council International (ACI), the World Economic Forum (WEF), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), say the world cannot wait for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

WTTC recognises that public health is paramount and welcomes the recent roll out of the game changing vaccines, which in the long-term will play a major role in combating coronavirus and restoring international travel.

However, they must not be a requirement to travel as this will further delay the revival of the already ailing Travel & Tourism sector, which needs to restart now to save itself, millions of jobs in the sector and beyond, and the global economy. Getting people back to work will also provide enormous health benefits to those around the world, whose livelihoods have been affected by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent research from WTTC shows a staggering 174 million global Travel & Tourism jobs are now threatened.

The safe opening of existing travel corridors such as London Heathrow – Dubai, with appropriate testing and hygiene protocols, demonstrates that international travel can already take place at minimal and acceptable risk.

Together with ACI, WEF, and ICC, WTTC has identified four key measures which need to be implemented to restore international travel safely, including globally recognised testing regimes before departure, common health and hygiene protocols that are aligned with globally-established standards set out by ICAO (and the WTTC Safe Travels protocols and Airport Health Accreditation), a risk management regime, and internationally consistent and recognised travel passes.

WTTC and the industry bodies warn against the introduction of so-called ‘health passports’ – as opposed to internationally-recognised travel passes currently being considered – which would only further delay the recovery.

Gloria Guevara, WTTC President & CEO, said: “WTTC welcomes the incredible developments and hugely encouraging medical advances on COVID-19 vaccines which has seen the beginning of coronavirus vaccinations.

“The vaccines currently being rolled out are truly game-changers, and hopefully just the first of many which could transform the world, mark the beginning of our return to a more normal way of life and see the return of safe and confident international travel.

“Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines will be critical to combatting COVID-19 and restoring confidence for people to interact with one another. However, it will take considerable time to vaccinate the world and for the vaccines to have a significant effect on the global population, and the global Travel & Tourism sector simply cannot wait. Vaccination must not be a requirement to travel but should co-exist with testing regimes and be considered as a progressive enhancement to already safe travel.

“Governments must now demonstrate leadership by opening bilateral travel corridors on key international routes with countries that apply the same robust risk management processes.”

WTTC, ACI, WEF, and ICC warn against the introduction of so-called ‘health passports’ – as opposed to internationally-recognised travel passes currently being considered – which would only further delay the recovery. The sector has suffered enormous pressure since the outbreak began and recent WTTC research shows a staggering 174 million global Travel & Tourism jobs are now at risk.

The four measures identified by WTTC and its international partners are as follows:

  • Globally recognised testing regime on departure – It is essential that quick and cost-effective testing to international standards are introduced on departure for all passengers to minimise the risk of transmission
  • Common health and hygiene protocols – Heightened health and hygiene protocols, such as the WTTC Safe Travels Protocols, can ensure the risk of transmission during travelling is actually lower than in the community at large
  • Risk management regime – All governments should adopt a clear policy of risk management in accordance with the recent recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART), and the guidelines from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (EASA/ECDC). This is in stark contrast to the present risk avoidance approach, reflected in 14-day quarantines, which is crushing both business and leisure travel
  • Travel passes – Vaccines can work alongside digital travel passes, such as CommonPass, AOK Pass and IATA Travel Pass to ensure the common certification of test results to revive travel, without the need for restrictive and unnecessary travel barriers and counterproductive quarantines. By contrast, attempting to introduce so-called “health passports” would only further delay the urgently needed recovery.

Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Airports Council International (ACI) World Director General said: “While we welcome the rapid development and deployment of vaccines, there will be a considerable period before they are widely available so, during the transition period, tests and vaccines together will play a key role on the industry recovery.

“As they become more available for travellers, there must be a proportionate approach to vaccination before travel balanced with a risk-based approach to testing. Just as quarantine effectively halted the industry, a universal requirement for vaccines could do the same and a coordinated and risk-based approach to testing and vaccination going forward will provide passengers with a safe travel environment and foster confidence in air travel.”

Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility at the World Economic Forum said: “Given the enormous challenge of achieving widespread vaccine distribution and availability, diagnostics will remain paramount for the foreseeable future. It is imperative that governments and industry collaborate to enable a hybrid regime of risk management interventions which may include testing, vaccines, and other measures as part of a broader hierarchy of controls.”

John Denton, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) said: “Global mobility is a powerful economic driver – one that supports many businesses and livelihoods currently facing deeply uncertain futures. Hinging the revival of international travel on an extended global vaccine roll out would continue to jeopardise the futures of these businesses as well as those who rely on travel to safeguard their livelihoods. As a better approach, rapid and reliable systematic testing can effectively stem the spread of the virus today, allow travel to resume safely and enable an effective reboot of the global economy.”

According to WTTC’s 2020 Economic Impact Report, in 2019 Travel & Tourism was responsible for one in 10 jobs (330 million in total), making a 10.3% contribution to global GDP and generating one in four of all new jobs.