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Will international trips return in 2021? What we know right now

(CNN) – There is hope: summer holidays abroad can take place on a large scale this year.

The number of people breaking out of their countries will surge in late spring and rise by the middle of the year, travel industry experts predict, as vaccines and risk-based safety measures roll out and coronavirus cases continue to fall around the world .“I’m actually pretty confident that by May 1st we will all be in a much better world,” said Paul Charles, founder and CEO of London-based travel consultancy The PC Agency.

Vaccines and testing are the way forward, say Charles and other industry experts, but what may be just as badly needed is greater consistency and coordination across borders.

“If you don’t have a coordinated global approach, it’s very difficult for the industry to move forward, especially when the rules of the game change fundamentally every day,” said Luis Felipe de Oliveira, general manager of Airports Council International (ACI), a global trade organization that represents the airports of the world.

Departure tests are a component of making travel safer during the pandemic.

Joseph Okpako / Getty Images

Much more needs to be done to iron out testing protocols that would enable globetrotters to reject quarantines and find ways to smoothly share vaccination and testing information across borders.

The sovereign nations still individually decide what is best for them, considering their own health situations and economies. However, progress has been made to get countries to take a more global view of the vast economic power of travel.

A alphabet soup from agencies, organizations and companies (UNWTO, ICAO, ACI, WTTC, airlines, etc.) have worked together on numerous guidelines and global recommendations to make travel safer, easier and less confusing for a world of starving consumers to change scenery.

ACI’s de Oliveira said the summer recovery could mean international air traffic in most countries is 50% to 60% of previous levels.

Here are some of the hurdles travelers and the industry face as travel speeds up:

Eliminate quarantines

Mandatory – and rotating – quarantine requirements “are basically killing the process of restarting the industry,” de Oliveira said.

Speaking to CNN Travel, de Oliveira was in Montreal on day 12 of a 14-day quarantine after returning home from a business trip to the Dominican Republic, followed by a personal trip to Mexico. He has been quarantined four times in the past seven months and has been home for 56 days without being able to go out.

This kind of time investment and confusion around requirements – both going home and coming home – are a huge deterrent to people who might otherwise be willing to travel. Security is important, but industry representatives advocate a more nuanced, multi-layered approach.

Travelers at a hotel in Melbourne, Australia had to be quarantined after returning from overseas in December.

Travelers at a hotel in Melbourne, Australia had to be quarantined after returning from overseas in December.

WILLIAM WEST / AFP / Getty Images

A testing mechanism is needed to avoid quarantines, says Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at the US National Travel Association, a nonprofit advocate for a science-based, risk-based approach to reopening international travel on removing quarantines if you have the right test protocol. ”

While vaccines will be critically important, Oliveira and others say the travel industry absolutely cannot afford to wait to ramp up for vaccinations to be fully administered globally, making short-term testing an integral part of the equation for safer travel power.

Barnes mentioned a two-step testing program 72 hours before departure and again on arrival as a possible standard, and she cited a test pilot program in Hawaii – which can bypass a 10-day quarantine on most islands with negative test results -. – as an example of where quarantine testing has generated demand.

While US Travel would encourage people to get vaccinated and tested in places where quarantines are required, the association is not looking for blanket entry requirements, Barnes said. “We wouldn’t say that you have to have a vaccine to travel.”

She recognizes that determining who is responsible for creating and implementing consistent logs can be a challenge. “The government doesn’t necessarily want to,” she said, “and I don’t know that the private sector should have that responsibility.”

However, countries and organizations around the world are making progress in coordinating common approaches, says Alessandra Priante, regional director for Europe at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a specialized agency of the United Nations.

In many cases, a coordinated test methodology is already in place, and the next step on a global scale, according to Priante, is backtracking “to make sure we can share a certain amount of data because when we don’t.” If you share the data, we may not really be able to have all of the information we should have. “

The travel industry cannot afford to wait for vaccines to be distributed around the world to ramp up.

The travel industry cannot afford to wait for vaccines to be distributed around the world to ramp up.

Patrick T. Fallon / AFP / Getty Images

Get vaccinated … and prove it

Some of this information would likely relate to vaccinations. The UK vaccination program is well underway. Other countries have also made significant progress, and the United States program is slowly getting started.

Traveler confusion can also increase as more people move around in the spring and additional requirements for negative tests and vaccination records come into play.

For example, Australia has just announced that it will require negative PCR-Covid tests for all travelers, and Qantas airline has suggested that all international passengers may need a certificate of vaccination soon.

We need a harmonized global approach to identify vaccination and test information and share it accurately and safely, Oliveira said.

Current practices – printed paper documents from unfamiliar laboratories in languages ​​that may be unfamiliar to those who inspect them or a tangle of disconnected databases around the world – are less than ideal.

For this reason, ACI supports the use of health apps like CommonPass, a tool that allows travelers to share laboratory results and vaccination protocols without revealing any other personal health information. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is also working on a digital travel pass platform.

Even if vaccines are widely used, not everyone takes them, and researchers are looking into whether the virus can still be transmitted by vaccinated people. Masking, social distancing, hygiene, and other layers of security will be part of everyday life – and travel – for a long time to come.

Travel bubbles - like the expected two-way corridor between New Zealand and Australia - are among the bespoke measures to restore some international travel.

Travel bubbles – like the expected two-way corridor between New Zealand and Australia – are among the bespoke measures to restore some international travel.

Jorge Fernández / LightRocket / Getty Images

Action in the meantime

Seamless international travel will not happen overnight.

While we await declines in coronavirus cases and more global coordination on safer, less confusing cross-border travel, destinations and businesses are increasingly adopting their own interim solutions.Delta Air Lines is trying a handful of Covid-tested, quarantine-free flights to the Netherlands. These flights use a combination of the Gold Standard PCR Test and the Preboarding Antigen Rapid Test.Oliveira sees rapid antigen testing as a potential aid to the industry’s recovery. Although antigen testing is considered less accurate, as a layer of risk management it is much faster and cheaper than molecular testing.Iceland and Hungary have adopted the concept of “immunity passports” that can be used by people who are already infected with Covid-19 and have recovered.

Unfortunately, like most things related to Covid, these measures can change.

“Corridors can be useful if they’re consistent, but again, they’ve been up and down, opening and closing on short notice, and that hasn’t helped consumers at all,” said Paul Charles, the travel industry advisor.

Ultimately, travelers want to safely mix and mingle with the rest of the world again.

Ultimately, travelers want to safely mix and mingle with the rest of the world again.

ROBIN UTRECHT / Stringer / Getty

The big goal: to mingle with strangers

The UNWTO Priante hopes that the ups and downs will soon ease because the world is missing.

“What I regret most is that everything tourism is about trusting the unknown … the beauty of exploring, meeting someone you have never met before from another culture, another nation, It’s kind of on hold and at stake because people tell us, “Don’t trust anyone, cross the sidewalk, wear your mask, don’t mix,” she said from her Madrid home.

And while Priante and her colleagues have made all the arrangements and have continued to travel and work to manage the global crisis that is threatening livelihoods in the industry, she wants more people to travel safely.

“We want to bring the spirit of tourism back into people’s hearts. Because tourism is about building memories … and we want to come back to that, we want to become the industry of fond memories again.”

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