Vaccine passes may help revive tourism: ADB

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TOURISM in developing economies in Asia and the Pacific, including the Philippines, could rebound by 2023 with the help of vaccine passes, a study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) showed.

“The introduction of vaccine passes, a digital or hard copy pass that documents receipt of a particular vaccination, could substantially facilitate cross-border travel and help revive the tourism sector,” the multilateral bank said in a policy brief published Friday.

“Added to the previously implemented strategies, vaccine passes seem to be an emerging solution to restart tourism,” the ADB said.

Due to border closures, travel restrictions and dampened demand amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, international tourist arrivals in Asia dropped by 80% last year.

Governments and airline companies across the region implemented several measures to promote domestic tourism and revive the sector, such as granting subsidies, tax reliefs, coupons, vouchers and implementing “bubbles” to allow travel in select destinations.

However, local tourism still can’t fully fill the gap left by international tourists, the ADB said.

It said a pass showing the owner has been fully vaccinated has its own advantages, such as allowing economic activities to resume while protecting the vulnerable portion of the population and encouraging more people to get inoculated.

“The use of vaccine passes is not new and does not have to be digital. The “International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis,” or simply the “Yellow Card” of the World Health Organization (WHO) has been used for many years when traveling to countries which require vaccination against diseases such as yellow fever,” it said.

The bank estimated outbound travelers to Asian economies could return to its pre-pandemic level by 2023 under an optimistic scenario where the vaccination rate maintains its current pace and people have vaccine passes.

However, even in the most positive scenario, the study showed international tourism will likely remain stagnant this year followed by a sharp increase in 2022 when vaccine rollout picks up pace.

“Recent surveys indicate that people long to travel again after many months of restricted movements. Thus, demand for travel that is above historical trends can be seen for vaccinated people,” it said.

The ADB said a six-month delay in the delivery of vaccines could result in a full recovery happening only by 2024.

However, the ADB warned that adopting vaccine passes also poses risks and should be managed well due to the varying effectiveness of different vaccine brands and the possibility of the use of fake passes.

“Finally, the biggest challenge is international coordination among different stakeholders–governments, international organizations, airlines, and even laboratories. For a vaccine pass to work, an internationally recognized standard for verification of vaccine authenticity and identity is needed,” it said. — BML