Travel and tourism industry leaders have called for an immediate resumption of international travel through rigorous testing and enhanced hygiene protocols, stressing the industry cannot wait for a full vaccine roll-out.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) said that while it recognises vaccination will play a major long-term role in combating coronavirus, travel could be achieved safely now within existing Covid guidelines.
Its call has been backed by Airports Council International (ACI), the World Economic Forum (WEF), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), who together say the world can’t just sit and wait for vaccines.
"They must not be a requirement to travel as this will further delay the revival of the already ailing travel and tourism sector, which needs to restart now to save itself, millions of jobs in the sector and beyond, and the global economy," said the WTTC.
"Getting people back to work will also provide enormous health benefits to those around the world, whose livelihoods have been affected by the devastating Covid-19 pandemic."
According to the WTTC, testing and hygiene protocols on travel corridors such as Heathrow-Dubai have demonstrated how international travel "can already take place at minimal and acceptable risk".
Together with ACI, the WEF and the ICC, the WTTC has identified four factors to restore international travel safely – globally recognised pre-departure testing; common health and hygiene protocols and robust risk management practices aligned with the global standards, such as those defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the WTTC itself; and some form of internationally consistent and recognised travel pass.
However, the coalition has warned against so-called "health passports" as opposed to internationally recognised travel passes, which ensure common certification of Covid test results.
Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and chief executive, said: “Safe and effective vaccines will be critical to combatting Covid-19 and restoring confidence for people to interact with one another.
“However, it will take considerable time to vaccinate the world and for the vaccines to have a significant effect on the global population. The global travel and tourism sector simply cannot wait.
“Vaccination must not be a requirement to travel but should co-exist with testing regimes and be considered as a progressive enhancement to already safe travel.
“Governments must now demonstrate leadership by opening bilateral travel corridors on key international routes with countries that apply the same robust risk management processes.”
ACI world director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira added: “While we welcome the rapid development and deployment of vaccines, there will be a considerable period before they are widely available, so during the transition period, tests and vaccines together will play a key role on the industry recovery.
“As they become more available for travellers, there must be a proportionate approach to vaccination before travel balanced with a risk-based approach to testing.
“Just as quarantine effectively halted the industry, a universal requirement for vaccines could do the same and a coordinated and risk-based approach to testing and vaccination going forward will provide passengers with a safe travel environment and foster confidence in air travel.”