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Main stage at the 2021 World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit, Moon Palace Resort, Cancun, Mexico.

The Path of Business-Travel Recovery: Still Unsteady

Even as travel executives gather to consider the steps to recovery for the sector, pandemic considerations force another high-level industry event to be postponed.

More than 600 travel-industry executives from around the world came together in Cancun, Mexico, this week for the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit—which last took place in 2019—to discuss “the road to recovery for travel.” The primary message of the event was that travel can resume safely with more international coordination and effort, particularly around the technologies allowing people to digitally upload and prove testing and vaccination status. 

During one main-stage discussion, six panelists agreed that the World Health Organization must get actively involved in the effort to restart travel. “We need a statement from WHO that traveling is not a greater risk if you play by the rules,” said Rita Marques, secretary of tourism for Portugal.

Further, keynote speaker Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Hotels Corp., said that a standardized tool and unified rules are critical for helping international travel recover quickly, rather than a patchwork of country-by-country rules regarding verifying vaccination and Covid-test status and requiring quarantines.

“It is hugely encouraging to see common agreement by those attending that collaboration and cooperation between the public and private sector would lead the way for revival of international travel,” said Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of WTTC.

Left unsolved by the discussion, however, was how governments, airlines, and other major players in the travel industry will seek to streamline use of the different tools—specifically, the various “digital health passport” applications such as Clear, CommonPass, IBM Digital Health Pass, IATA Travel Pass, and VeriFLY—in order to make the travel process work smoothly across all airlines and in every destination.

“We need to remove fear from the equation, and we need to remove uncertainty,” said Daniel Richards, CEO of travel-insurance firm Global Rescue, as reported by Travel Weekly. “Those are two different things, and we can't remove the uncertainty of the travel experience [ourselves]—that goes to governments.  We must get some level of coordination among governments so that when travelers book their trips [they] have a guarantee” that they will not have a problem with their digital health passport and get stuck in quarantine on either side.

On the other hand, the announcement this week that the European Union will soon allow Americans who can prove vaccination status to travel to the region boosted the hopes of the WTTC attendees, who came to Mexico from more than 40 countries. In addition, on-site hotel testing and “bubbles” that allow only guests and Covid-tested employees on property can help assure incentive-travel participants of a safe experience, said one keynote panelist.

GBTA Annual Event Pushed to November
One week before WTTC got underway, the Global Business Travel Association announced that its international-attendee-heavy annual convention, scheduled for July at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, will move to November 17 to 19. 

The decision was made “after taking into consideration feedback from members, exhibitors, and sponsors and in recognition of the current status of the Covid-19 pandemic and the global travel sector,” according to Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA. In her video announcement on YouTube, she noted that “July would simply be too far ahead of travel policies being relaxed and too far ahead of international borders being open, which [our members] told us [they] expect around September." 

“This shift allows us to better accommodate all our members, especially those traveling from outside the U.S., and to send the important message that global business travel can be accomplished safely, as vaccination programs gather momentum and as Covid-19 testing becomes easier and less costly.”

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