Have you heard of the term “vaccine passport?” Well, if you plan to travel internationally in 2021 and perhaps for the foreseeable future, you may just have to get one. Travel-related businesses and international governments may soon ask for digital documentation that proves that passengers have been vaccinated or tested for the COVID-19 virus.

Denmark plans to roll out a digital passport in the next three to four months to allow citizens to show they have been vaccinated. The Biden administration has asked government agencies to determine how feasible it is to link COVID-19 vaccination and produce digital versions of vaccination documents.

As for businesses, Etihad Airways and Emirates have both announced that they will start using a digital travel pass soon. Developed by the International Air Transport Association, it will help provide governments and airlines documentation that passengers have been vaccinated or tested for the deadly virus.

So, when can you travel again? Will the vaccine passports help? Many countries are planning extensive campaigns to lure in international visitors, though the need for caution remains high. Governments worldwide suggest caution, but there is also pressure from the travel industry, which has suffered unprecedented losses during the pandemic. The result is the joint effort to open up with specific criteria like proving vaccination and negative results.

However, the World Health Organization and others are yet to endorse the idea of the digital health passports that carriers are pushing. The aim is to replace the mandatory quarantines with these documents and entice more people to book flights. Their caution is understandable. A negative test or vaccination does not entirely rule out the risk of COVID-19.

One thing is certain. There needs to be consistency and harmonization of rules when it comes to international travel. Unless there is consistency, the process may thwart passengers more than ever. The need of the hour is to establish global standards for digital vaccination certificates. Evidence of vaccination can serve as proof and eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival, a policy that is also standing in the way of the return of international tourism.

The process is not a new one, however. For decades, international travelers have had to show documentation proving that they have been vaccinated against diseases such as rubella, yellow fever, and cholera. Of course, not every country required it, but most did. However, the digital component proposed today is different from those past documents. The focus is on developing universal standards for the vaccine and making them accessible and equitable via apps.

Which countries are opening up for tourists soon?

Some Mediterranean nations were among the first to welcome tourists in the summer of

2020. Caribbean and some Asian countries followed next. They have all, barring a few exceptions, have lifted travel restrictions, reopened borders, and allowed commercial flights to resume. Countries that have welcomed tourists with wide-open arms include Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Which say no?

Australia is yet to reopen at all, with it saying might not welcome international visitors until the end of 2021.

Great Britain announced a phased travel plan where International travel from England will be banned until May 17 at the earliest, though vaccinated individuals may travel more freely internationally.

The United States needs all international travelers to the country to take a viral COVID-19 test within three days of departure for the U.S. They will have to provide documentation of a negative antigen or PCR result before being allowed to board.

In Canada, foreign nationals, including Americans, are not welcome except for those who have dual citizenship or are Canadian residents. The border between the two U.S. and Canada remains closed. Canada also announced that it would ban all cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers from calling on Canadian ports through February 28, 2022. Stricter travel restrictions are in place for Canadians traveling to the Caribbean and Mexico through April 30.

Clearly, full-scale global travel won’t happen till 2022 or perhaps 2023. It is a bleak reality to face for many airlines and travel businesses. They are lobbying hard to get the vaccine passport idea approved by WHO, but the global health body remains unmoved. The decline of international leisure travel is persisting, and the travel industry’s losses will be close to $3.3 trillion by March 2021.