Vaccine Passport or No Passport
For cruise ships, resorts, and other attractions constrained by the coronavirus, a relatively safe return to normal operating procedures may be aided by digitized, highly verifiable vaccine passports that prove employees and guests alike are vaccinated against the virus. Most of these passports are designed to be displayed on a smartphone, which attraction operators can eyeball or scan to verify at entry turnstiles.
While convenient, the concept of requiring proof of vaccination prior to entry at a global attraction or when boarding a cruise has stirred up conflicting emotions.
Some attractions may choose to use such proof of vaccination for guests or passengers as a way to calm fears and market their attractions as safe. Yet, others may choose to hang back, reluctant to wade into the controversy for fear they could alienate staff and visitors.
Passports at Sea
Windstar Cruises, for example, has come out in strong support for vaccinations. Its new policy is crystal clear: Anyone seeking to travel on the cruise line must produce proof of vaccination at the cruise terminal prior to embarkation.
“Vaccination is another layer of safety for all of us. And it’s the responsible course of action as our yachts resume cruising and our guests travel the world,” says Christopher Prelog, president, Windstar Cruises.
Viking Ocean Cruises also has a strict proof-of-vaccination requirement. All guests must be vaccinated to embark on any Viking Cruise at least through Sept. 30, 2021. Guests seeking to cruise on Viking this summer will need to submit proof of vaccination through Viking’s new digital health survey system, which passengers need to complete as part of the booking process.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Sail Safe program also requires guests provide proof of vaccination through Oct. 31. The operator plans to accept paper proof that passengers are vaccinated, along with digital proof at ports of call in countries where such proof is considered an accepted format.
Not all operators are on board with vaccine passports. Allen Monroe, CEO of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, California, is distinctly against passports.
“Without a national strategy for vaccination documentation, this is a nonstarter,” he says. “With visitors from almost every state—plus international guests—there is no way to communicate any vaccine requirement and would just lead to unhappy frustrated guests.”
Ron Magill, communications director, Zoo Miami, has a similar take. “Zoo Miami will not be requiring ‘vaccination passports’ or any other proof of vaccination documentation from visitors or workers. This is in keeping with the directives stated by Florida’s governor and, in turn, Miami-Dade County’s mayor,” Magill says.
Other attractions businesses echoed the same reasoning for opting out: Without a clear directive from local, state, or federal governments, why even get involved in the business of verifying coronavirus vaccinations?
“At this time, there is not a widely used vaccine passport in Chicago. Chicago’s still rolling out phased plans. So, if a vaccine passport emerges, we would explore it if other destinations were adopting it,” explains Meghan Curran, chief marketing and experience officer at Shedd Aquarium.
Other operators are also waiting on guidance from their local officials.
“If the governments of the destinations where we operate start requiring vaccination passports, then at that point we will require them as a company as well,” adds Fernando Diez, director of marketing at Quasar Expeditions, which operates cruises in the Galapagos Islands, safaris in Patagonia, and custom South American tours.
Other attractions operating under the “no-vaccination-proof required philosophy” include Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, New York, and Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
Retail Sees an Opportunity
No matter where a particular attraction stands on vaccine passports, it appears certain such confirmations may emerge as tools of trust in coming months. Heavy hitters in the world of health and technology—including the Mayo Clinic, health insurer Cigna, and Microsoft, for example—are already putting one version of a digital passport together. The system is designed to enable workers to show a “certified vaccinated” passport on their smartphones to employers and businesses, such as movie theaters, cruise ships, and grocery stores.
The technology is already available at Walmart, where customers who receive their vaccination at the store (or at Walmart’s affiliate store, Sam’s Club) can use the store app to connect to a third-party health app that issues a passport. Together, the store and the certification company behind the health app, work together to verify and create a digital record that confirms the customer is vaccinated. Once verified, the customer is issued a proof-of-vaccine passport, which can be shown to employers and others on a smartphone or printed on paper.
“Our goal is to give customers vaccinated at Walmart free and secure digital access to their vaccine record and enable them to share that information with third parties seeking to confirm their vaccination status,” wrote John Furner, Walmart U.S. CEO and president, in a statement.
From a privacy standpoint, Walmart or Sam’s Club shoppers looking to secure a vaccine passport can create a free digital account on the stores’ apps—and agree to share their vaccination history. While they’re online using the store app, they may also choose a third-party health app that they trust to issue the vaccine certification—either the CommonPass app, the CommonHealth app, or the CLEAR app.
“A secure, convenient solution to verify COVID-19 vaccination will play an important role in accelerating a healthy and safe return to work, school, and life in general,” says Joan Harvey, president of care solutions at Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business of the system Walmart is using.
Another player advancing a vaccine passport solution: Mastercard. The credit card company announced in March that it’s partnering with the International Chamber of Commerce to come-up with its own version of a digitized vaccine passport.
“Delivering a global, interoperable health pass system can only happen if we come together in a way that meets the needs of everyone involved,” says Ajay Bhalla, president, cyber and intelligence at Mastercard. “Together with ICC, its member organizations and our partners in the Good Health Pass Collaborative, we can work to get the world moving again and jump-start the global economic engine.”
Sports Venues Adopt Passport Systems
Meanwhile, another early developer of a vaccine passport is New York State, where the government has created the Excelsior Pass, a digital passport that appears on a smartphone in the form of a QR code. Like Walmart’s vaccine passport, Excelsior Pass can also be printed in hard copy form. Businesses scanning Excelsior Pass can verify the owner of the passport is vaccinated against COVID-19 or has tested negative against the coronavirus. The digital certificate, developed by IBM and based on IBM’s own IBM Digital Health Pass, was first used by guests attending a Brooklyn Nets game in February 2021.