As the tourism sector toddles to rise up, ‘Vaccine’ turns to be the mantra

Vaccine takes the centre stage of future plans of the still baffled and distressed tourism sector  Many raise eyebrows citing ethical concerns.

Whilst inoculation initiatives are in place in many regions, hope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of the shattered dreams of tourism. May be the first time in the history of an economic sector of this magnitude, a vaccine becomes a solution for a recovery from a catastrophic crisis. Certainly it is not a panacea; still it provides a ray of hope. Of late, vaccine turns to be the mantra of tourism sector which is the hardest hit by the global pandemic. The ill effects of the pandemic on tourism have been lingering around for several months. Different forecasts predict varied duration for the recovery, though the sector is marred by severe uncertainty as a result of recurring rises in the Covid 19 spread. While some countries go for vaccine passports for both international and domestic travel, some others make use of vaccine as means of attraction by offering opportunity to get vaccinated. Some others utilize vaccine certificate as an entry requirement for inbound visits in order to ensure safer tourism. The trend is expected to increase in the weeks to come. On the other hand, there are increasing concerns on encouraging vaccine based tourism considering the scope for discrimination among the vaccinated and non-vaccinated and threat of opportunity for free movement for all.
As the nations are grappling with the poor state of tourism and desperately seeking measures to revive it, a major economic sector among many of them; leaders of the EU member states earlier thought of introducing COVID-19 vaccine passports for the member state citizens to engage in overseas tourism within EU. Now, instead of having Covid 19 passport considering the delay in the vaccination initiative, EU plans to introduce a Digital Green Certificate that can let the residents of their countries and their family members to travel at will across the bloc; so long as they have proof of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative test result or a documented recovery from the virus. It is going to be available both in digital as well as paper format and can be obtained free of cost. According to the officials, it is not assumed as a precondition to free movement, and it will not discriminate people in any way. This initiative is envisaged to let anyone vaccinated against Covid-19, or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus to travel within the EU. The US is already facing inter-state tourism like movement which is gaining significance over there.

Recently Spain announced a plan to create a “green corridor” for all UK citizens who have been vaccinated against Covid 19. UK recently announced that half of their population is vaccinated, which gives a scope for a hike in outbound tourism demand. Greece also announced that it is opening its borders by mid of May for those who are either vaccinated or tested negative to Covid 19. By this announcement, the hospitality industry booking rates have increased remarkably. Moreover, the authorities plan to prioritise the vaccination of people working in the hospitality sector once the most vulnerable are vaccinated, which is a widely acclaimed move.

Through a fantastic move, Mauritius came up with an innovative agenda. Visitors holding the premium visa, along with the residents of the country can now receive their vaccinations free of charge. It is the only country, as of now, which offers long-term visitor visas free of charge and a free Covid-19 vaccine to holders of these visas. There are reports that Maldives is also introducing a similar plan. It plans to introduce “3V Tourism”, which stands for “Visit, Vaccinate, and Vacation.” If the holiday is for a longer term, for some weeks, the inbound travellers can have two doses of vaccines. Even in Maldives, the staffs from tourism sector are also in the priority list of vaccination agenda.

Thailand is hoping of reviving tourism along with the introduction of national inoculation program and looking into coronavirus vaccine passports and quarantine waivers. It is expecting to receive covid 19 vaccinated travellers soon.

China, which has already vaccinated more than 50 million of its population, commenced issuing digital vaccine passport to millions of the vaccinated people. The vaccine certificate can be accessed through WeChat, an app designed for the same, and a QR code is also there by which the certificate can be verified from anywhere by scanning it. Israel, which has the world’s fastest vaccination program, is also doing the similar for its citizens.

While vaccine is becoming a strategic tool in promoting tourism, there are some concerns that act against promoting such trends. Promoting vaccine tourism can cause in taking advantage of lax and vague vaccine guidelines, like not being asked for residency documents before administration of the vaccine. The equitable distribution of vaccine among the people of the region can be affected. The potential for getting vaccine can be more for those who have the capacity to travel to distant places also. Vaccine administration to tourists can be at the cost of the same for common people of the destination. There has to be a level playing field for everyone in the nations with respect to how and when they get the vaccines. Moreover, encouraging the vaccinated people to travel and offering the space for visitation and recreation, it seems a sort of discrimination between the lucky ones who got vaccines and the unlucky ones, who face vaccine inaccessibility and affordability issues. Some countries, particularly the undeveloped ones do not see a hope for inoculation soon.

Dr. Dileep M.R.

Tourism Academician, Researcher, Author and Columnist.