As the global vaccination efforts against COIVD continue steadily, governments are preparing for how to systematically handle international travel in the post-COVID world. Aside from putting in place measures that detect new cases from incoming travelers, facilities to quarantine, and creating institutions responsible for continued monitoring, governments around the world are seeing a new "vaccination passport" as a way to ensure safe travel on a large scale while minimizing risks of a new contagion. The argument goes that if there is some sort of global standard for assurances of a traveler's inoculation from epidemic diseases, costly prevention measures would become obsolete.
While governments tout the idea of a global vaccination passport as innovative, people who have traveled across sub-Saharan Africa would be familiar with the concept. For years, a little yellow booklet showing yellow fever vaccination has been a required document to get into many African countries, alongside the usual passports, tickets, and proof of income. For many, the yellow booklet also contained records of immunizations and treatments against other common diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, and rabies commonly found in African countries, making the COVID vaccine only one of many entries that have already been taken for years.
The fact that the world touts the vaccine passport as a new idea in itself just shows how much rich world travelers take for granted relatively hassle-free cross-border travel in ways that African citizens often cannot begin to imagine. For countries with powerful passports, commonplace visa-free agreements allow them to hope over borders with just a plane ticket. For those lucky to be in the EU and other continental visa-free zones like that between the US and Canada, pre-COVID road travel did not even require a passport. For them, the idea that proof of health would be a requirement for travel would have been ludicrous.
In contrast, African travelers have for decades suffered under high prices and great inconveniences when it comes to traveling across borders. Not only where yellow fever vaccinations a requirement, visa-free travel, even among African states themselves, is a rarety. After spending hours in lines at consulates and a small fortune for short-term visas, African citizens are then saddled with expensive tickets that may route them through airports in Europe and the Middle East for lengthy layovers even though both the starting point and the destination are within Africa.
African travelers may be comforted by the fact that the travel-related frustrations they faced for decades, in the post-COVID world, will become more of a global norm. The extra hurdles to travel go beyond the vaccination passport. With many airlines dying or shutting down routes during the COVID slump, the post-COVID world may see much more costly plane tickets and longer layovers in farther away hubs. As fears of some countries not being able to contain COVID linger, some countries may decide to selectively roll back visa-free arrangements, making the idea of just buying an airplane ticket and go more difficult for many.
Travelers from elsewhere may even become more like African travelers in their economic and travel conditions. The extra cost of arranging travels would make active travelers in other parts of the world a small percentage of the total, more in line with those from Africa as a proportion. With more people's jobs becoming precarious and less secure as a result of the COVID-induced economic slump, travelers from elsewhere will also have less money to spend on the road, converging with the reality for many African travelers become COVID. In sum, travelers everywhere will become more like African travelers in the post-COVID world.
Given all the frustrations African travelers faced before COVID, world travel becoming like African travel post-COVID is not a great prospect for the travel industry. But if the global travel industry looks to how the African one developed over the past decades, albeit from a low base, it should still be cautiously optimistic. After all, despite the high costs and many hurdles, African travelers did exist and grew, driven by increased economic ties both within Africa and major trading partners around the world. African businessmen flew across the world to do business, while tens of thousands of students studied abroad across the world, despite the relative limitations of their passports and incomes.
The one key takeaway from the resilience of the African traveler is that travel, even for those with limited budgets and ability, is important enough that many are willing to patiently deal with those obstacles rather than be deterred by them. Surely, rich world travelers dealing with higher costs and the hassle of vaccination passports will initially be frustrated by the inconveniences of the extra requirement. But over time, people everywhere, like Africans, will accept these extra requirements as a procedural norm, a necessary evil that prevents illegal activities and continuing pandemics. And given that many are dying to explore the world after being holed up at home for more than a year, many will gladly deal with them just so they can get on the road again.
Image Credit: https://www.sabre.com/insights/releases/traveler-spend-in-africa-could-increase-by-27-sabre-research-reveals/