Government AffairsHope on the horizon but quarantine restrictions take big toll on travel.

Asia Pacific waits for ‘the elephant to start running’

IATA’s Vinoop Goel: “We can convince governments to reopen borders responsibly, safely.”
IATA’s Vinoop Goel: “We can convince governments to reopen borders responsibly, safely.”

The audience at WiT Experience in Singapore has been told that people are now choosing where they want to travel, “based not on inspiration, but where there is no quarantine and where there is a high vaccination rate”.

Ang Choo Pin, Expedia Group’s managing director Asia, and head of government relations and corporate affairs, said that based on feedback from the Asia Travel & Technology Industry Association (ATTIA), quarantine restrictions were now the “undisputed travel killer”.

He said APAC governments were artificially shutting themselves off from one another by failing to coordinate pandemic travel regulations — “and that is going to cost the region very dearly”.

During a session seeking to find answers to the reopening of Asia Pacific travel, panellists were unanimous that simplifying pandemic regulations and making them work equally across jurisdictions were key to restoring confidence in travel.

Vinoop Goel, IATA regional director, airports & external relations, Asia-Pacific, said the world couldn’t even agree to drive on the left- or right-hand side of the road, so little wonder that governments were struggling to align their pandemic travel policies.

“In some countries, you can get a digital vaccine certificate, whereas in many other countries, you still get a piece of paper, handwritten, which is supposed to prove you're vaccinated.

“How can another country trust that piece of paper? And that's what we're saying to governments, please eliminate paper or keep it as a backup, but let’s have sensible digital certificates in place.”

“Governments have a duty to protect their citizens, but we can convince them to reopen borders responsibly, safely, maybe gradually, but it can be done,” Goel said.

Subhas Menon, Association of Asia Pacific Airlines director general, said roadmaps for reopening of borders were emerging but airlines were still burdened “with the multiplicity of protocols, policies, and practices by different governments”.

“We need to synchronise all of that, because otherwise it will be a jungle out there.”

Menon said he is starting to see hope on the horizon. “You know, it's like an elephant that takes a bit of time to get up and go, but once it starts running, you know, there'll be no stopping.”

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, speaking in Montreal at the ICAO High Level Conference on Covid-19, said airlines could not afford a restart that was compromised by paper-based processes for checking travel health credentials.

“Several airlines are already starting implementation of IATA Travel Pass across their networks. It’s also a ready-made solution for governments to be prepared to efficiently manage their documentation processes as demand ramps up,” Walsh said.

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