Sun. Jan 17th, 2021

While interest in getting vaccinated for Covid-19 might vary, the desire to travel largely does not.

A study released by Hilton last October indicated that 95% of Americans miss traveling. But those who either can’t or won’t take a Covid vaccination may find themselves shut out of some routine travel experiences, such as flying, cruising and going to business conferences.  

Here’s how the choice of whether to vaccinate (or not) may affect travel plans in the future.

Traveling abroad

Though no country has announced a mandatory vaccination requirement yet, it’s “very possible” that some will once vaccinations become freely available, said Sharona Hoffman, co-director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

“I would guess that New Zealand might be a country that would require proof of vaccination for travel purposes,” she said, citing the country’s rigid travel ban and low Covid-19 infection rate.

Hoffman said countries will have to balance the need for tourist income with the inherent coronavirus risks that travelers bring with them.

“We know that large numbers of people plan to decline vaccination as of now, including in wealthy countries, such as the United States,” she said. “Are nations going to be willing to give up on tourism income from such individuals?”

A survey released last month by market research firm Ipsos with the World Economic Forum showed that 69% of Americans were willing to get vaccinated against Covid-19, a 5% increase from October. Residents of other countries look likely to embrace the vaccine in higher numbers, including China (80%), Mexico (77%), the U.K. (77%) and Australia (75%). Residents of Russia (43%) and France (40%) showed the lowest intention to get vaccinated in the survey.

Countries with tight border restrictions and low Covid-19 rates, such as New Zealand, may require travelers to be vaccinated to visit.
Matt Champlin | Moment | Getty Images

Keen to restart travel as soon as possible, global travel organizations are pushing for Covid-19 testing over vaccine mandates. Estimating a global vaccination rollout would take at least 12 to 24 months, the International Air Transport Association stated last month that it was “not an option” to wait for vaccines to reopen borders.

In a Reuters video panel last Monday, World Trade & Tourism Council (WTTC) CEO Gloria Guevara made headlines when she said vaccination mandates would be discriminatory to travelers.

“A blanket vaccination requirement would simply discriminate against non-vulnerable groups, such as Generation X, Z and Millennials, who should be able to travel with proof of a negative Covid test,” she said in a statement published Tuesday on WTTC’s website.

Singapore has hinted that unvaccinated travelers may be subject to longer quarantine periods and additional testing.
franckreporter | E+ | Getty Images

Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s minister for national development and co-chair of the country’s Covid-19 task force, said last week that vaccinated travelers may have their “stay-at-home” quarantine periods shortened or eliminated altogether.

In an interview with Channel News Asia, he said those who choose not to be vaccinated “have to live with more frequent tests … quarantines and … all of these other additional requirements.”

Taking international flights

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce kicked off an international debate when he referred to vaccinations as a “necessity” for the airline’s international travelers last November, during an interview with Australia’s Nine News.

“Talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe, I think it’s going to be a common theme across the board,” he said.

On Dec. 3, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told Today that he thinks vaccinations for international travel will eventually become a “requirement.”

“I suspect that U.S. airlines will not be requiring vaccinations across the board.
Dean Headley
co-author of Airline Quality Rating

Although no major airline has announced a requirement yet, many are awaiting governmental guidance. A representative for Korean Air told CNBC’s Global Traveler that this “is not a policy we can independently decide … we will follow government policies.”

A Singapore Airlines spokesperson said the airline would follow guidance from the city-state’s government and regulatory authorities. Qatar Airways declined to comment.

In December, AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes echoed sentiments that it will be governments, not airlines, making the decision, adding that he foresees that Asian countries “won’t let anyone in without a vaccination.” 

Dean Headley, co-author of the Airline Quality Rating and an emeritus professor at Wichita State University, does not believe Americans will be completely shut out from flying if they are not vaccinated.

“I suspect that U.S. airlines will not be requiring vaccinations across the board,” he said. “But they could make vaccinations a form of preferred travel status.”

Airline expert Dean Headley believes some, but not all, U.S. airlines may require passengers to be vaccinated to fly in the future.
Sandy Huffaker | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“Requiring a vaccine would suppress the demand for seats at first, but could ultimately bring flyers back quicker as the vaccine is widely administered,” he said.

While Headley does not foresee airlines opting for vaccinated-only flights in lieu of a blanket mandate — calling the notion a “real logistical nightmare” — he said airlines may decide to post the percentage of vaccinated passengers that are booked on a flight to help potential flyers assess the risk of flying.

Staying in a hotel

It’s unlikely that hotels will require guests to be vaccinated, said Professor David Sherwyn of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.

“With the vaccine being slowly rolled out, requiring it for guests simply (is) not practical,” said Sherwyn.

Sherwyn doesn’t envision any major hotel brand taking this stance, but “it could be a boutique sales pitch” for hotels seeking to tap into a “Covid-safe” market.

It’s also possible that hotel conferences may require entrants to be inoculated since “a large number of people are in indoor spaces, sharing meals and networking,” said Sherwyn.

An executive at a high-end Indonesian resort said the hotel’s management is considering requiring guests to be vaccinated once the country reopens to tourists. Though she declined to be named, pending the resort’s final decision on the matter, she said the staff feels such a mandate would attract rather than turn away the hotel’s affluent target market.

Going on a cruise or organized tour

Cruises are “very likely” to require passengers to be vaccinated, said Sherwyn.

The challenge for cruise ships, however, will be shore excursions, said James Ferrara, president of travel company InteleTravel. He believes cruises will work with fewer tour companies and transition to “heavily restricted experiences” to keep passengers safe.

Tour companies, on the other hand, aren’t indicating plans to require vaccinations, said Ferrara. Tour groups are too fluid, moving freely between lodging, shopping and tourist sites, to make it a workable solution, he said.

“Vaccination is the key to rising consumer confidence in travel,” said Ferrara. “But the science does not support making it a ‘silver bullet’ as a requirement or protocol for all types of travel.”