For the past year, the pandemic has literally changed almost every facet of travel. Now many countries and travelers are claiming that the new COVID-19 vaccines are going to be the magical cure for international travel restrictions in 2021.
While its still unknown how the tourism industry will evolve in 2021, countries that rush to enact mandatory vaccine entry requirements could in fact see their tourism numbers be slower to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
The COVID-19 vaccines will not bring an end to travel restrictions in 2021 and could cause further economic and social turmoil in the already shattered tourism industry.
The Problems With Vaccine Entry Requirements
Countries that enact a COVID-19 vaccine entry requirement too early and make it the only way to enter the country could face multiple hurdles in 2021.
The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be granted emergency use in countries such as the U.S. by the middle of December. The first people to get the vaccine are expected to be front line workers but even the U.S. government is realistic that it will take until at least May for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated.
There is one big problem with this theory. In a recent poll by Gallup, only 58% of Americans are willing to get the vaccine.
For countries that depend on U.S. tourists, are they willing to turn away over 40% of U.S. travelers by enacting a ‘vaccine only’ entry requirement?
The wealthy and developed nation of Canada only expects half of its population to be vaccinated by September of 2021.
“Canadians can expect that if all goes well, to have more than half of us vaccinated by next September,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Having a mandatory vaccine entry requirement to protect a country from virus transmission may be great in theory but it’s not that easy.
There are going to be multiple versions of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by different pharmaceutical companies, in different countries, with varying safety standards and effectiveness rates. Who decides which vaccines are good enough and how will nations protect against what could be a new ‘black market’ of vaccine certificates?
One solution proposed by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) was a COVID-19 ‘Travel Pass’, a tool which fundamentally serves as a COVID passport in the future of travel regulations and protocols.
This system all depends on widespread adoption by international countries, and looking at the difference in how each country has handled the pandemic thus far, this ‘travel pass’ is still highly unlikely to be adopted worldwide.
Evolving COVID-19 Virus
Two trial vaccines are showing great promise and expected to be approved by the middle of December.
On November 9 Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their vaccine was found to be 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 with no serious adverse effects. This was followed by the news on November 16 that a vaccine being tested by Moderna showed a 94.5% effectiveness rate.
While this is excellent news for future of international tourism, scientists are still unsure if the vaccine will be effective on mutations of the COVID-19 virus.
On November 7th, the United Kingdom banned travelers coming from Denmark after a mutated strain of the Coronavirus which causes COVID-19 transferred from minks to humans.
Why Some Wealthy Nations Could See Their Tourism Suffer
Australia is setting itself up for a tourism industry that may not ever fully recover.
Australia has already set dangerous precedents that are unheard of in the developed democratic world. With citizens not allowed to leave the country, making it illegal to form protests, an airline claiming they will only allow vaccinated passengers and the government has suggested it will only allow travelers who have been vaccinated to enter the country.
Qantas Airlines chief executive, Alan Joyce said that he expected other airlines around the world to follow suit.
They haven’t yet.
While the laws may have saved lives and protected the country from widespread infection, it has cost Australians their freedom of movement. Australia was still unable to prevent COVID-19 completely confirming over 27,885 cases.
Thailand is using a combination of multiple PCR tests and mandatory quarantine for travelers wishing to enter the kingdom. While it’s not easy to get in, at least travelers have a choice to go. Travelers still want to feel welcome in the places they visit and shutting them out completely isn’t easily forgotten.
Thailand has been praised around the world for its ability to control the virus.
Will Travelers Visit Countries That Require A Vaccine For Entry?
In a recent poll by Travel Off Path of 245 frequent international travelers, only 57.6% said they would be willing to visit a country that required a COVID-19 vaccine for entry.
29.8% of travelers said they would choose another destination and 12.6% were still undecided.
Although there is still a large number of travelers not willing to get the vaccine, these numbers could change once it’s proven safe among a large population.
What Country Is Leading The World In Tourism During The Pandemic?
All eyes are on Mexico and have been since June when most tourist hotspots in the country started welcoming back travelers.
According to CEIC Data, Mexico has already recovered 60.3% of its international tourists compared to 2019. In the middle of a worldwide pandemic the number of tourists visiting Mexico is shocking when compared to the majority of countries that haven’t even recovered 10%.
Mexico has maintained some of the easiest COVID-19 entry requirements in the world with no mandatory quarantines or testing. While many believed this strategy would scare away tourists due to high infection rates, Mexico has flourished and become the go to destination for travelers around the world.
Although Mexico has seen high infection rates confirming over 1 million cases of COVID-19 with 104,873 deaths, it hasn’t stopped tourists from arriving to the country by the millions.
The tourist hotspot of Cancun alone registered over 1 million tourists in September of this year. The Cancun International airport just recently set a new record on November 6 and 7th recording over 300 flight arrivals each day which was the highest since the city reopened for tourists.
What Is The Vaccine Entry Requirement Solution?
Governments have one chance to get this right and their decision could impact their tourism industry for years to come.
Travel Off Path has been following travel during COVID-19 since the very beginning and one thing’s for sure. Travelers want to feel welcome and not have to jump through multiple hoops to get into a country. For those who choose to travel during these unprecedented times, the fear of arriving in a country and not getting in is outweighing the fear of the actual virus.
Countries should have an option for travelers that have received the COVID-19 vaccine to be granted entry without testing or quarantines.
But at the same time, countries should not single out and prevent travelers who aren’t willing to get a vaccine from entering. Other great options for strict countries could include test upon arrival, quarantine for 5 days and another test to be released from quarantine.
For example the U.K. has enacted a test to release program. All travelers are required to quarantine for 14 days but travelers can opt to take a COVID-19 PCR test on the 5th day and be released.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories