With virus sniffing dogs in Helsinki, sneeze guards in Cleveland and wellness ambassadors in Abu Dhabi, the travel and tourism industry is working night and day to overcome the barriers to travel in the torrid time delivered by the Covid pandemic.
Throw in antigen testing in Germany and biometric boarding systems in Asia, and there is no shortage of effort and accumulated brain power focused on erecting a Covid defence force across the globe.
Among governments, airlines, airports, the hospitality industry and the corporate travel sector, the common task is to find solutions that will provide infection protection and biosecurity while restoring confidence in travel that will, in turn, generate the rebuild of shattered economies.
Regaining passenger confidence has become a critical factor for airlines to weather the ongoing economic storm, says air transport communication and information technology leader, SITA.
“That pace of innovation adoption sets a scene for rapid industry transformation over the next few years and will force a historically slow-moving industry into action,” SITA predicts.
But what the industry has so far failed to achieve is a Covid-testing regime that is universally accepted by authorities, a point raised by IATA, which is preparing to launch a Travel Pass that the airline representative body says is key to the global information infrastructure needed “to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveller identities”.
IATA’s Travel Pass would allow travellers to manage travel and health documentation digitally throughout their journey with a trial involving International Airlines Group (IAG) due to launch in Q1 2021.
SITA predicts that within a few years the development of a digital identity will replace the traditional passport with a Digital Travel Credential (DTC) currently being explored by industry bodies, including ICAO.
Digital passports do come with a privacy risk. “So, we need to find solutions that allow the sharing of data in a responsible way. Health data is another later of sensitive information, so it’s a massive challenge, but also an opportunity,” Isabelle Moeller, chief executive of the Biometrics Institute, told the Future Travel Expo.
For now, Lufthansa’s walk-in testing facilities at airports in Germany in association with genetic testing firm Centogene, have proved popular with travellers. Frankfurt Airport has the capacity to handle 20,000 analyses per day, providing Centogene with key data on positivity rates which they can use to better focus screening efforts in the future.
“We’re convinced that testing is definitely the best way to fight the pandemic, much better than the quarantine. It gives you specific information on your health status, which is good for fighting the pandemic, but also for the travellers, as it gives them security on whether they’re infected or not,” says Bjoern Becker, senior director of product management, ground and digital services, Lufthansa.
Becker says PCR tests are considered the gold standard for detecting the virus with 99% sensitivity.
Lufthansa is looking into other solutions such as the CommonPass, a digital health passport from the World Economic Forum (WEF) which has been used by Cathay Pacific on its Hong Kong-Singapore service as well by United on its London-New York flights.
The CommonPass project is a broad coalition of public and private partners collaborating to launch “a trusted, globally-interoperable platform for people to document their Covid-19 status (health declarations / PCR tests / vaccinations) to satisfy country entry requirements, while protecting their health data privacy”.
“Testing and health passports are the two best options in the travel industry’s toolkit to combat pandemic-related fears,” says Volkmar Weckesser, CIO, Centogene.
In the meantime, Covid-19 detecting dogs will continue to check out international passengers arriving in Finland, Delta flight crew will undergo nasal swab testing, Qatar Airways’ Wellness ambassadors will reassure passengers it’s safe to fly and AirAsia will boost its investment in contactless, biometric boarding systems across its service footprint.
Different strategies each linked to one ambition: to pulverise the pandemic.