The business events industry is abuzz with talk of travel bubbles and digital health passports, but a medical association leader has dismissed calls for a vaccine passport as a ‘red herring’ that could result in the return of international meetings being a ‘flop’.
Ben Hainsworth, managing director of EASL, European Association for the Study of the Liver, said he thought vaccine passports were inevitable, but focusing on them was a distraction.
“We should be focusing on what our value proposition is when the recovery comes,” he said during a debate on the subject, hosted by PCMA to mark Global International Meetings Day last week (8 April). “That is what we should be thinking about right now. We are not in control of the vaccine passport situation.”
He added: “If we have vaccine passports, but we are still thinking about events in the same way we did in 2019, the recovery will be a big flop. We need to think about the unique value of face-to-face and start re-pitching and redesigning our meetings. Although there's latent demand out there, it will need to be mobilised and activated, it won’t just come back."
Fellow panellist Sanjay Seth, managing director of BCD Meetings and Events Asia Pacific, said he was in favour of a vaccine passport, arguing that they were not a ‘new idea’, and could hasten the recovery of the business events industry.
Addressing fears that a vaccine passport could create a two-tier society, he said, "we already live in a multi-tier society," but he acknowledged there are concerns that, "these passports could outlast the dangers of Covid-19 and we could end up with a checkpoint society".
Lyn Lewis Smith, CEO of BESydney, advocated a vaccine passport but lamented the fact that the one organisation who, in her opinion, had the credibility to organise such a scheme, the World Health Organisation, "seemed to be taking a step back from the issue".
Nevertheless, she said she was optimistic for the return of face-to-face events, arguing that for a country like Australia there was an "economic imperative" to reopen international travel.
She said: “Ultimately this is about the stakeholders. We need immigration for our productivity, we need global talent, international students, to pay back all the debt. We need visitation and that’s why I am so optimistic about the recovery of business events.”
The panel discussion, Pandemic Protocol: Is a Vaccine Passport a Solution for the Business Events Industry? was moderated by Oscar Cerezales, global executive president corporate division, MCI Group and was held as part of Global International Meetings Day 2021.
This is an abridged version of an article first published in AMI Magazine.