Part 1: General assumptions and boundaries, reflections on risk management and commercial impacts
Both domestic and international travels have been heavily limited in the fight to limit the spreading of COVID-19 and breaking the curve. Many countries and their population managed this in the first wave quite well, thanks to their strong economy and wealth. Others, as many as 100 countries and especially their poverty stricken population are struggling, forced into compromises.
This series of publications seeks to spark further thoughts into a responsible international travel scheme during this and future pandemics.
Part 1 coveres the general assumptions and boundaries, reflections on risk management and commercial impacts. Part 2 will study tools and processes that might lead the way to an open new normal. Part 3 expands on some select case-studies currently deployed and discusses some up- and downsides. Part 4 elaborates on the travel industry in change. Part 5 sheds some light on various solution components and how they fall in place.
By Stephan D. Hofstetter, Managing Partner SECOIA Executive Consultants Ltd
Our article published earlier this year with the title "Immunity Pass, health certificate, fit for travel & Co in times of Covid-19" provided a methodological approach in order to break down the complexity. The intention was to provide systematic and relevant search-fields for needed solutions. For this article, we will be focussing on the mid-term international travel. We still lack broad understanding of how the virus can be fought or cured, and indicators about immunity are mixed, with some reports debating it remaining for longer than 3 months. With this context, we will make some assumptions:
The first hypotheses is, that a continued, general lockdown of borders on international and intercontinental travel is not an economically viable solution for the mid- and long-term. The wheel of time has been turned back and life has become region-, perhaps nation-centered. However, it is unlikely to be expected to remain so on the long run. Forbes contributor Dean Donovan compares the recuperation of air travel with the post 9/11-era, expecting business travel remaining permanently impaired and leisure travel to take time.
The second hypotheses, processes all along the travel continuum need to be facilitated. The slowed down processes, and the enormous space requirements for pre- and off-boarding is a serious burden for the airport and airline operators, let alone for the passengers. A recent survey conducted by IATA showed, that despite the measures, 59% of travellers were concerned by crowded busses/trains on the way to the aircraft, and 42% about queuing at the various checkpoints such as check-in, security, border control or boarding. On this subject the World Economic Forum published an interesting article.
The third hypotheses for this report is, that generally placing all or the majority of persons under quarantine for 10 or 14 days is not viable, neither for tourists nor for business. The effectiveness of this measure is not questioned by the authors. However, it impacts the objective of the vast majority of the travels.
Accepting the need for facilitated, reasonable international travel, the next question should not be focused on the tools, but on the acceptable risks. The discussion will not only be focused on the epidemiological aspects, but has the potential of being discriminating for various reasons. The outcome of ethical and legal discussions of these questions will highly depend on the society reviewing them. Among the many parameters, a couple of exemplary questions will lead the discussion:
Should a person with elevated COVID-exposure risk be permitted to travel? And if so, should he be subject to a different process than the "normal" persons? This question has an impact on persons living in countries, or having visited countries with high infection numbers. Also, it concerns persons working in the medical system, or as "service backbone of society", such as public transport, postal service, store staff. De facto, this is in place in many countries. Many countries have locked their borders to specific countries, or have imposed quarantine procedures for persons travelling from countries of elevated risks. We will go into some more detail on this in part 3 of this series.
A special and highly intrusive aspect is this one: Is voluntary behavioural exposure risk to be treated differently from „normal“ behaviour? This concerns people not aware of or voluntarily ignoring the impact of COVID-19 on persons health and global economy. It could specifically affect a younger population who is attracted to a lively nightlife or major sporting events.
Which risks is the destination country willing to accept as price for ramping up local economy with leisure and/or business travel? A very liberal practice is bound to have a negative impact on the infection rates. A too strict practice would not meet above assumptions. The answer to this question will impact the required quality of assessment, its input-parameters. In absence of sufficient evidence-based data and procedures, a restrictive approach is bound to lead to closed borders.
Who is to set the benchmark on the risk parameters? While there can be expected to be a certain diligence by the countries of origin, it is more likely to be for one the air carrier operators who would be concerned upon emigration. However and in any case, the authorities at the destination will consider themselves most concerned. This has as consequence, the traveller will have arrived already at the border and must now be handled on own territory. This is a burden for the authorities of the destination country, but equally for the traveller. For the later the predictability of immigration is lost. Unless, a pre-departure process can be established.
Which sources of data will be trusted by the competent risk assessment authority? This question becomes an integral part of above evaluation for pre-departure processes. On which sources of data will the destination country be willing to ground their "clearance-to-travel" processes?
Commercials Discussion of commercial and legal aspects in the development of guidelines, standard operating procedures and supporting tools should not be neglected. Travel bans have an impact on an important industry. However, if the disease spreads uncontrollably, it also has an impact on the whole economy and personal well-being. These are important issues, but they go beyond the scope of this article. The sober question is: who bears the commercial consequences of travel costs or lost business when a flight ban is imposed. Or if the travel becomes obsolete due to a preventive quarantine? Is there a deferment of liability in the event that such a travel ban proves to be appropriate in the event of a subsequent positive COVID test or was not appropriate due to a negative COVID test?
Several countries dependent on tourism (such as Cyprus) have taken a more liberal approach and offer insurance coverage or actual financial guarantees in case they fall ill with COVID-19. Others, such as Jamaica, do not prevent people from travelling, even if the risk assessment is negative. However, they strongly discourage travel as a form of waiver of liability.
The economic, risk management and commercial liability aspects cannot be separated. The only way to solve this in the medium term, in our view, is to achieve a multilaterally agreed procedure and risk management approach, combined with transparent and verifiable communication. A proposal on this will be the subject of the next article in this series.
Please do not hesitate to comment in a constructive and solution-oriented manner. We look forward to further developing the approach together with the professional community.
About SECOIA Executive Consultants AG
We are a network of experienced professionals working in the public sector and specialized industry. Our mission is to consult the involved parties and join needs and solutions as match makers. We oversee the identification of requirements, development, evaluation, search and implementation.