As more and more governments adopt major COVID certificate standards (see the blog post series we released on this topic) to reopen borders, the travel industry is working hard to catch their technology up to meet the evolving travel requirements. In the meantime, there are no shortage of complaints from travelers about cumbersome international travel experiences. 

Linux Foundation Public Health (LFPH) and its COVID Credentials Initiative (CCI) have been working to support the implementers of COVID credential solutions with a particular focus on facilitating interoperability among technology standards while preserving privacy protection of individual’s data. At this critical juncture of global reopening, LFPH/CCI and our member Affinidi, a leading player in the space, brought together  key actors from the travel industry and related technology vendors to share and discuss:

  • What technology solutions are in use to issue, process, manage and verify COVID certificates along the journey for international travelers, from before they leave home to their arrival at the hotel at their destination.  
  • How they navigate and implement the complicated health policies and travel rules.
  • What key challenges they are facing to provide a safe and smooth travel experience, including major technology and policy gaps that the LFPH/CCI community can help address.

Takeaways from Presentations 

We were excited to have many key players along the travel journey share their particular challenges and approaches to reopen international travel. There were a few critical themes that emerged:

Navigating the new travel reality in the midst of COVID is not easy for anyone.

We have seen all over the news how difficult and stressful it is for travellers these days to move across international borders. The summit provided an opportunity for us to dive into the why through the lens of those who were striving to provide a positive travel experience.

While travellers are struggling to navigate the new COVID reality, the entire travel industry is having to do the same. Through the presentations, we learnt that a healthcare provider serving travellers and governments, such as BP Healthcare, were expected to take on many new responsibilities, some of which went beyond their capabilities and capacity. We also saw how a single airline, such as Singapore Airlines, now needs to navigate through various and evolving health credential standards and complicated entry rules set by each country . The airline needs  to ensure they can provide a safe and seamless travel experience while staying compliant with the regulations. As a technology provider serving the different parts of a travel journey, Amadeus provided a great overview of where the most common frictions emerged for both travellers and airlines.

ICTS (International Consultants on Targeted Security) Europe shared that 80% of passengers are now “conditional to travel”, meaning they are required to go through a manual check-in process with an airline agent compared to the pre-pandemic situation where 82% were “ok to travel” and could just use the self-serve check-in options. As a result, airport operations have had to make a meaningful shift.  And this was only one example of the dramatic changes facing the travellers and the travel industry.

The constantly changing medical and travel rules are a challenge for all.

Among all the challenges travellers and the travel industry are encountering, the constantly changing medical and travel rules was the recurring thread that almost every speaker touched upon. This challenge is two fold, one being the timely communication of new rules in a clear manner to travellers and the other being the adaptations the different parts of the travel industry need to make to existing mechanisms to implement the new rules. 

The rule changes take place so frequently that it makes it hard for everyone to follow, especially passengers. The lack of clarity regarding what a traveller needs to do to meet the requirements, e.g. type of documents, is causing confusion and anxiety.

However, for the travel industry, even though they have established channels to receive the most up-to-date information, they struggle to adapt as fast as required since many of them are already under great operational stress. 

Collaboration is key to more efficiency and less confusion in this difficult time.

We were able to bring together this great line of speakers because all of them have been working somehow with our member Affinidi, the co-host of the summit. During the presentations, we heard almost everyone mention collaborations or partnerships as a cornerstone to their operations. For example, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) talked about how they worked with the Singapore Ministry of Transport and Affinidi to create a Vaccinated Travel Lane (Air) for fully vaccinated travellers to enter Singapore via the airport without having to quarantine. Another example is healthcare and health tech providers, such as Switch Health and BP Healthcare, who are working closely with their governments and the travel industry to provide rapid testing and health credentials for international travel.

Travel is so complicated that it is impossible for any one player to unilaterally issue COVID health credentials. We were glad to learn from so many at the summit that were all working towards the same goal. Many of them were already collaborating on more coordinated efforts to provide more efficiency and less confusion to passengers. 

It’s important to leverage existing offerings when you can and build with the future in mind.

Many of the speakers came from organizations that were providing technology solutions to the travel industry prior to COVID. While we were learning about the collaborations among them to create new tools, we also heard the mindful efforts many were taking to advance and adapt their existing offerings, especially the consumer-facing ones, with the goal of not creating new interfaces or applications unless necessary. When travellers are already confused and stressed, it certainly makes their life a bit easier if they can just use the familiar applications they were using prior to COVID to conduct all these new additional steps.

An important perspective from IATA was that they were not only building the solution leveraging their existing application but also thinking about how their today’s work could benefit the travel industry and travellers in the long run. 

We all share an ideal travel journey and trust is needed at different stages of that journey.

Affinidi shared an ideal traveler’s journey at the beginning of each session, which many other speakers echoed through similar visuals of their own. IDEMIA and Entrust helped us understand that each stage of that journey has a trust problem to solve – if travelers are presenting authentic data of their own. Solving the trust problem becomes particularly important when we are dealing with sensitive personal and health information that will lead to high-stakes decisions.