MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: As India faces a fresh surge of coronavirus infections, the travel and tourism sector is pinning its hopes on vaccine passports, which will help countries open borders to those who have been vaccinated. Vaccine passport is a digital document showing that people have been vaccinated or tested for the virus.

Such a document will allow cross-borer travelling with vaccine certificates or covid-19 negative test reports from accredited laboratories at airports, and identity chethrough an iris scan. “Vaccine passports will help the travel and tourism industry not only in India but internationally, too. Right now, there is no check at airports that test is actually done, or the covid-19 report is edited. A digital document will stem fraud too,” said the chief executive of an online travel company, requesting anonymity.

After a short-lived reprieve, the tourism sector in India is staring at a crisis again given the resurgence in covid cases which has led to cancellations for air travel and hotel bookings as states impose partial lockdowns.

“Vaccine passports will definitely go a long way to bring back business to the travel and tourism sector. This will surely prevent frauds with paperwork and standardized information. But we expect overall appetite for travel to revive to pre-covid levels in the next two to three quarters, as more people are vaccinated, which will give people the confidence to travel,” said a senior airline official, seeking anonymity.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has 290 airline members from 120 countries, is in talks with leading Indian airlines to sign them up for its digital health pass. While Israel was the first country to introduce vaccine passports, Singapore on Tuesday said it will accept the IATA mobile travel pass for pre-departure checks. IATA’s travel pass, aimed at helping revive international air travel, will verify secured testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travellers.

Several leading global airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Air New Zealand have signed up for IATA’s travel pass.

“Airlines have been taking the strictest measures to prevent the spread of the virus. As things stand, travelling on an aircraft is absolutely safe. But, the rising number of cases and travel restrictions are preventing people from travelling,” the airline official said.

A global survey by Amadeus Lab said 93% of Indian travellers will be willing to use a digital health passport for all trips.

As things stand, India’s largest domestic airline IndiGo is currently engaged with IATA for a Travel Pass.

At present, travellers are required to take pre-departure covid-19 swab tests within 48-72 hours of their flights and present the report at the airport. With cases rising, the average number of daily fliers came down to 2,39,000 in the week ended 3 April, less than 2,51,000 in the week ended 27 March, according to a report by ICICI Securities.

“Vaccine passports or covid test results, when integrated to a passenger’s digital identity, can induce a sense of safety and confidence. The travel industry urgently needs this, and the easiest way to enable it is though implementing biometric and contactless technologies that empower passengers to securely hold and handle their information,” said Mitul Ruparelia, VP & Head of Sales, Vision-Box UK, EMEA and India. Vision-Box is a provider of automated border control systems and electronic identity solutions.

Ruparelia said vaccine passports are secure, and information held in that a digital passport holds is already existing with border control agencies. Digital passports eliminate paper records, and all the information is securely held by the client – e.g. an airline or a border control agency. “We do not hold any data,” he adds.

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