Michael Doorley is President of the Irish Travel Agents Association and Managing Director of Shandon Travel
The EU initiative to reopen travel for consumers, known as the Digital Green Certificate, is fully supported by the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA).
This will act as proof that a person has been vaccinated against Covid-19, received a negative test result, or has recovered from the virus and is safe to travel abroad. This will effectively open the EU for internal travel, and may eventually be extended beyond the EU.
The certificate is free, and the aim is to have the certificates “up and running by summer”, likely by mid-June. Travellers will still be permitted to travel without the certificate - it is not a passport and the ITAA supports the rights of all citizens to travel freely within the EU.
The project is supported by the WHO (World Health Organisation), ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and IATA (International Air Travel Association).
The ITAA has been calling on the EU to introduce such an initiative for some time, as this will encourage the Irish Government to relax its attitude to the Digital Voucher scheme.
Initial positive feedback from Member States was discussed at European Council meeting on March 25-26. The strongest opponents so far to Digital Green Certificates are France, Belgium and Ireland.
The EU Commission welcomes any support from the travel industry to put pressure on Member States, therefore the ITAA will be pushing the Government to relax its current stance and allow Digital Green Certificate holders to take long overdue breaks abroad. These will also boost inward tourism for the peak and shoulder seasons, as many ITAA members are also involved in bringing tourists into Ireland, which will in turn provide some relief to the domestic tourism and hospitality industry. If we continue to limit access to all travellers into our country, they will simply travel to other EU states.
Consumers are waiting for foreign travel to reopen, not simply for sun and sand holidays or cruises, but to visit families and friends all over Europe whom they may not have seen for a year. In addition to this, businesses are also waiting for the opportunity to travel in order to reconnect with suppliers and to look for new business and contracts.
While being mindful of controlling the virus, the Government must also be mindful of the mental stress of lockdowns on its citizens, and must consider enacting the Digital Green Certificate.
Another project complimenting the Digital Green Certificate is the IATA Travel Pass Initiative, which has been successfully rolled out in London Heathrow and Singapore airports. The IATA Travel Pass will give accurate information on travel, testing and vaccine requirements for all countries. It will also include a global registry of testing and vaccination centres in order to identify testing centres and labs at departure locations which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of the destination, and will locate authorized labs and test centres to securely share test and vaccination certificates.
The initiative will enable passengers to create a ‘digital passport’, receive test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their itinerary, and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate safe travel. With this app, IATA also aims to provide governments with the confidence to safely reopen borders without imposing quarantine periods on incoming travellers.
As representatives of the travel industry, we are calling on Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to respond positively to these measures by meeting with us and others involved in the industry to plan a strategy on the reopening of our country and air routes. We must act now to put plans in place, so that we are prepared and ready to begin reopening our industry within the necessary parameters.
The travel and tourism industry has been the hardest hit sector in Ireland, with 400,000 jobs compromised by the pandemic. This consists of 140,000 jobs in Aviation, 250,000 in hospitality, and others working with inbound and outbound travel - that is over 400,000 jobs. In addition to this, the travel sector is likely most legislated sector, with four separate pieces of legislation on travel since January.
We need to work with Government now to plan a coordinated path for recovery in line with other EU member states.