What’s the Deal with Vaccine Passports?

Now that more adults in the US are getting vaccinated, should hotels require guests to prove COVID immunization? Here’s what to consider before deciding.

With just over 45% of adults in the U.S. partially or fully vaccinated and over 70% of adults planning to travel over the next few months, the topic on everyone’s mind, especially in the travel and hospitality industries, is vaccine passports. Internationally, there are now more than a dozen countries allowing travelers with proof of COVID vaccination to visit. But stateside, many feel a strong resistance to businesses requiring proof of COVID vaccination. Florida, Texas, Arizona, Montana, and Idaho are all discussing blocking a COVID immunization certification.

As discourse and legislation around vaccine passports continue to develop along with the continued need to demonstrate health and safety as priorities, hoteliers need to consider how requiring guests to show proof of the vaccine might affect their property and guest services. And if vaccine passports are required, what does that mean for operators?

To help navigate this unfamiliar territory, here’s a quick cost/benefit cheat sheet when it comes to COVID vaccine passports:

Here’s how they can help your property

The main points in favor of requiring some sort of vaccine passport are to make guests feel safe and to keep operations running smoothly. If guests and staff are vaccinated, it protects from potential outbreaks that will disrupt operations and require staff to stay home sick. If hoteliers do require proof of vaccination, they will be able to better mitigate liability and keep their staff and guests more safe from COVID.

A sense of COVID security will impact where and for how long guests choose to book, especially in bigger cities, where COVID safety has been more of a priority. As travelers look to visit destinations like New York and Los Angeles, hotels with stronger health and safety procedures are more likely to be favored.

Here’s how they might hurt your property

The counterarguments for hoteliers center around logistics and guest and staff compliance. First and foremost, requiring a vaccine passport for guests and staff is something of a logistical nightmare. How would you even do it? How would the information be stored? What if someone only has the first dose of a required two-dose vaccine? What about those who can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons—how would that information be verified? Few countries have been able to produce thorough, helpful guidance, leaving many operators on their own.

And while many guests will be glad for the security the passports provide, there will also be guests who don’t wish to disclose that information to anyone. Sure, if you institute a vaccine requirement, you might gain some extra bookings. Then again, you might also lose some. Hoteliers who decide to require vaccine passports will have to deal with the fallout of those who are actively opposed to having to show proof of immunization.

What should hoteliers do? 

The short answer is, there is no one right answer. But hoteliers around the world can learn from other industries to glean ideas on how best to tackle the vaccine passport issue. From gift cards to extra PTO to complimentary services, food, and beverages, companies are getting creative with incentives—and you can too. Incentivizing immunizations lets customers and staff make the final call, while still encouraging everyone towards a more COVID-safe environment. It’s a win-win.

For those who want a vaccine passport but worry about how guests will react to the physical documentation, mobile “passports” are a great option. Countries like Israel and Estonia are using QR code based systems to keep track of COVID immunizations. Mobile-based records have the benefit of keeping business owners informed in a way that feels less invasive while still remaining effective.

But when it comes down to it, operators in countries like the U.S. (where guidance has bounced between national mandates and management at the state and local level) don’t have a clear-cut path forward. Businesses are doing what they can and working with the information they have. And that’s okay for now. But now is not the time to grow complacent when it comes to COVID operations: keep an eye on things and prepare just in case things like vaccine passports go mainstream—whether that’s driven by the government or just private businesses. The reality is, this conversation might be drastically different in a few months. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no way to be sure what the future holds when it comes to COVID.

Hoteliers will ultimately have to make the best decision for their property. But while the conversation continues, the best thing you can do is 1) listen to the needs of staff and guests as summer travel returns and 2) stay informed about how the policy conversation is evolving in your country.

As the hospitality industry opens up more, now is the time to leverage contactless tech. Learn more about INTELITY’s mobile-first hospitality options.

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