. Infection protection: All for one, one for all | Meetings & Conventions Asia

Infection protection: All for one, one for all

IATA prepares to ‘reconnect the world safely’ with Travel Pass, and Singapore launches short-stay facility for meetings.

Antigen testing for Lufthansa passengers in Germany.
Antigen testing for Lufthansa passengers in Germany.

With virus sniffing dogs in Helsinki, quarantined international business meetings in Singapore and a new travel pass for everyone, the travel and tourism industry is working night and day to overcome the barriers to travel in the torrid time delivered by the Covid pandemic.

Throw in antigen testing in Germany and biometric boarding systems in Asia, and there is no shortage of effort and accumulated brain power focused on building a Covid defence force across the globe.

Among governments, airlines, airports, the hospitality industry and the corporate travel sector, the common task is to find solutions that will provide infection protection and biosecurity while restoring confidence in travel that will, in turn, generate the rebuild of shattered economies.

A handful of countries, among them Singapore, are relaxing restrictions on business travellers but the sector is still having to rely to a large extent on virtual meetings, a situation that’s unlikely to change until wide-scale vaccinations for Covid-19 allow international borders to reopen.

Figures from the Global Business Travel Association show 94% of its members flew for business prior to March 2020, before the start of the pandemic, but just 6% have flown since.

“A clear illustration in the loss of revenue not only for the business travel industry, but from corporations not closing new business deals to the wider global economy and GDP,” said Dave Hilfman, interim executive director GBTA.

New meeting facilities @ Changi

Business travellers will be allowed to enter Singapore for up to a period of 14 days when they will undergo the necessary routine medical checks while accommodated in dedicated facilities.

The first [email protected] pilot short-stay facility will launch in the first quarter of 2021 at Singapore EXPO, located close to the airport. Meetings will take place on-site with more than 600 guest rooms and about 170 meeting rooms available.

The Singapore solution is another small step in rebuilding confidence in the corporate travel sector, but what the travel industry in general has so far failed to achieve is a Covid-testing regime that is universally accepted by authorities, a point raised by IATA, which is preparing to launch its Travel Pass.

Travel Pass stores encrypted data including verified test or vaccination results on the mobile device of the traveller. The traveller controls what information is shared from their phone with airlines and authorities. To address privacy concerns, no central database or data repository will store the information.

Open standards enable the modules to be used as one solution or to complement capabilities being developed by other solutions providers.

“We are building the IATA Travel Pass with one aim—to help reconnect our world safely,” said Nick Careen, IATA's SVP airport, passenger, cargo and security.

An IATA Travel Pass trial involving International Airlines Group (IAG) is due to launch in Q1 2021.

For now, Lufthansa’s walk-in testing facilities at airports in Germany in association with genetic testing firm Centogene, have proved popular with travellers. Frankfurt Airport has the capacity to handle 20,000 analyses per day, providing Centogene with key data on positivity rates which they can use to better focus screening efforts in the future.

“We’re convinced that testing is definitely the best way to fight the pandemic, much better than the quarantine. It gives you specific information on your health status, which is good for fighting the pandemic, but also for the travellers, as it gives them security on whether they’re infected or not,” says Bjoern Becker, senior director of product management, ground and digital services, Lufthansa.

Becker says PCR tests are considered the gold standard for detecting the virus with 99% sensitivity.

Lufthansa is looking into other solutions such as the CommonPass, a digital health passport from the World Economic Forum (WEF) which has been used by Cathay Pacific on its Hong Kong-Singapore service as well by United on its London-New York flights.

The CommonPass project is a broad coalition of public and private partners collaborating to launch “a trusted, globally-interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 status (health declarations / PCR tests / vaccinations) to satisfy country entry requirements, while protecting their health data privacy”.

Testing and health passports are the two best options in the travel industry’s toolkit to combat pandemic-related fears,” says Volkmar Weckesser, CIO, Centogene.

In the meantime, Covid-19 detecting dogs will continue to check out international passengers arriving in Finland; Qatar Airways’ Wellness Ambassadors will reassure passengers it’s safe to fly and AirAsia will boost its investment in contactless, biometric boarding systems across its service footprint.

Different strategies each linked to one ambition: to pulverise the pandemic.