As the coronavirus pandemic persists and the extremely infectious Delta variety spreads, an increasing number of firms in the travel sector are requesting evidence of vaccination for their employees and visitors. Major airlines, restaurants, and even some hotels have implemented regulations aimed at ensuring the safety of their staff and customers—while also keeping the lights on.
“The science is unequivocal: the key to surviving the pandemic is vaccination of everyone who is eligible,” says David Harris, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group, a conglomerate of travel advisers in the United States and Canada. “It is unquestionably prudent business and humane to mandate vaccination in order to prevent the spread of this illness.
However, keeping track of which firms require vaccinations — and to whom those requirements apply — is far from easy, with new companies declaring their policy on a daily basis. The laws are compounded further by additional constantly changing requirements for passengers’ vaccination evidence and testing, including those imposed by international governments, specific states, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Numerous countries require tourists to present confirmation of vaccination or a negative test result upon entry, and some, such as France and Italy, additionally demand proof of vaccination for indoor eating and other activities. Additionally, cities in the United States such as New York City, New Orleans, and San Francisco have imposed citywide vaccination mandates for admission to indoor dining, leisure, and entertainment facilities.
If you’re planning a trip in the near future, here are some points to consider about vaccine-proof needs.
Who is requesting immunization documentation?
Several of the world’s largest travel companies are now asking for proof of vaccination for employees, visitors, or both. United, Frontier, and Hawaiian Airlines have all set fall deadlines for their employees to get vaccinated (or, in the case of Frontier, submit to routine testing), and with the US Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on August 23, at least one carrier, United, has already shortened that deadline by several weeks. Delta requires vaccinations for all new recruits in the United States. Although the Atlanta-based airline is not forcing vaccinations for current employees, the Washington Post reports that Delta would impose a $200 monthly health insurance fee on unvaccinated employees in an effort to boost vaccination rates. Other major airlines, like Southwest and American, do not require employees to receive vaccinations.
Additionally, Amtrak requires its personnel to be vaccinated or subject to weekly testing. Neither of these companies has yet implemented vaccination requirements for passengers, but travelers flying to certain countries must present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry, and all travelers returning to the United States from another country must also have a negative COVID-19 test result.
The Public Hotel in New York City was one of the first hotels to require proof of vaccination for all employees, guests, and visitors. Upon check-in, guests staying at the hotel or dining at its restaurant must present a vaccination card or passport. “We must work together to defeat COVID-19,” owner Ian Schrager stated in a news statement. “After all, it is our duty to care about people. We simply did not see a way to discharge this obligation without taking action.”
Along with the Pilgrim House Inn in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the Equinox Hotel in New York City, the Urban Cowboy Lodge in the Catskills, New York, is asking for evidence of vaccination for hotel guests and those dining inside at its on-site restaurant. Elite Islands Resorts, which operates nine resorts in the Caribbean, is also asking guests to present proof of vaccination before arrival, while Puerto Rico requires vaccination proof for tourists staying in hotels and short-term vacation rentals.
Additionally, restaurants are beginning to demand vaccines for both employees and visitors. Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates restaurants in New York, Washington, D.C., and other locations, is asking all workers and guests to provide proof of vaccination or else “you may dine somewhere and also work elsewhere,” Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer told CNN. Numerous independently owned eateries around the country now require diners to present proof of immunization.
Similarly, additional events and attractions that are travel-related are demanding visitors to provide evidence of immunization. All attendees at the Las Vegas Raiders’ NFL football games will be required to provide vaccination proof—or face an injection at the stadium. Whether on their own initiative or in response to city-wide regulations, music venues, casinos, museums, and even certain state fairs now require visitors to present evidence of vaccination. As more cities and private travel firms follow suit, visitors may anticipate that evidence of vaccination will become an increasingly frequent requirement for travel and daily life.
What does this signify for the traveling public?
These new — and rising — vaccine requirements imposed by travel-related firms complicate the process of organizing a vacation. To navigate these rules, begin by researching the country, state, or city guidelines for vaccination proof or testing requirements; additionally, determine whether a destination requires a specific vaccine pass or certificate, which requires sending or uploading vaccination proof or a negative test result in exchange for a digital or physical QR code that can be presented and scanned at museums, restaurants, and other establishments. Following that, create a thorough schedule for the trip and check each companies’ websites and social media pages for the most up-to-date immunization policy. Additionally, consulting with a travel adviser or specialist might be beneficial.
Travelers should bring their country’s official vaccination card or digital health pass, which they should anticipate to produce at the door or entry of a company. Prepare for delays and perhaps confusion as businesses iron out the details of enforcing these procedures. “These are uncharted waters,” says Peter Vlitas, Internova Travel Group’s executive vice president of global airline partnerships.
These standards, for many, imply a greater standard of care and safety. “Protective measures and protocols are indicators of a company’s level of care—this is true for restaurants, airlines, and other businesses,” says James Ferrara, co-founder, and president of InteleTravel, an online platform that connects travelers with over 70,000 independent travel advisors worldwide. “Ultimately, it is up to us to protect ourselves, which includes not just being vaccinated, wearing masks, and washing our hands, but also choosing responsible partners in our lives—airlines, hotels, and restaurants that exhibit that duty of care.”
While the majority of vaccination requirements apply only to visitors over the age of 12, parents of children who are not yet vaccinated should exercise caution and carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of travel. The CDC recommends that unvaccinated children follow travel precautions for individuals who are not completely vaccinated—wearing masks in public areas and around strangers, avoiding crowds, and often washing hands and using hand sanitizer.
What does this signify for the whole travel industry?
COVID-19 vaccination rules in the travel industry, like many other COVID-era reforms, are likely to remain in place until the pandemic is firmly in the rearview mirror, Harris adds. And they should come as no surprise to tourists, who have long been obliged to present proof of immunization against illnesses such as yellow fever while visiting specific nations. Harris also compared the scenario to the heightened security procedures used at airports in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. “We do not have a choice, just as we did not have a choice post-9/11,” Harris asserts. “You were required to be screened for anything you were carrying or you would not be permitted to board a flight. Numerous things changed in the aftermath of 9/11 that individuals perceived as inconveniences, and perhaps even as a violation of their civil freedoms. This is, after all, the way it has to be.”
Apart from that, some uncertainty among passengers is likely to persist — and the industry’s complete recovery will likely be gradual — unless the US government or an international organization such as the World Health Organization steps in to set consistent regulations, according to Ferrara. “Travel-related, tourism-related, and hospitality-related businesses are being compelled to step in and establish and enforce their own regulations, which is a significant issue in my opinion,” Ferrara adds. “As a result, the landscape is fragmented, which leads to consumer uncertainty about [issues such as] where can I travel and what am I required to do to travel. And this includes restaurants and other types of businesses.”
Meanwhile, tourism and hospitality businesses hope that tourists would persevere, be patient and polite to the employees tasked with implementing these laws, and maintain their wanderlust despite the intricate rules and regulations. The travel industry has been pushed to be flexible and adaptable over the last year and a half for the benefit of our safety—this is just the latest indication of that effort.