Booking Holdings CEO says he sees 'significant upsides' to using vaccine passports as the travel industry gets ready to make its big comeback

  • Debate over the use of vaccine passports has been heating up in the US. 
  • Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel said he sees “very little downsides” to using them for travel.
  • States like Texas and Florida have barred vaccine passports, but they are being used in New York. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Vaccine passports are an increasingly hot topic of conversation, particularly in the US, as more Americans receive shots to help combat COVID-19.

Vaccine passports are documentation, often in the form of a scannable app, that a person can use to show that they have been vaccinated. They’ve been promoted around the world as a way to get business back to normal, assuming they become required for entry to sports venues, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses where people congregate.

The technology is of particular interest to the travel industry, which has suffered as many countries have kept their borders closed to international visitors in order to slow the spread of the virus.

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel says adopting vaccine passport systems could be a way to resume travel safely, especially as consumers look to travel abroad.

“I see very little downsides. I see significant upsides, and it’s not like we haven’t had this before,” he said to Insider, arguing that schools have historically required vaccinations for students. Some countries have also required that travelers prove they have been vaccinated against yellow fever before they arrive.

“I don’t see a problem with this in the least,” Fogel said. “This is a way to help bring back an industry that has been so devastated — in a safe way.”

Fogel has a vested interest in seeing travel return to pre-pandemic levels. Booking Holdings owns Booking.com, Priceline, Kayak, Agoda, Rentalcars.com, and OpenTable, all of which rely on travel and tourism to drive revenue. It’s been a difficult year for the company, which reported that revenues fell 55% to $6.8 billion year-over-year in 2020.  

But Fogel said a vaccine passport program would be more effective if it were applied and recognized in a consistent way globally, as is the case with regular passports. 

“When you take your passport around the world, no matter what country you go to, they take your passport and they put it through a thing and it works, and the reason it works is because all the governments came up with a standard,” he said. “And it’d be wonderful if they would do that with a whole health passport too.”

Fogel, however, is not so hopeful that this will become a reality anytime soon. The Biden administration has already said it would not institute a federal program requiring Americans to carry proof of their vaccination status and would instead leave decisions around these policies up to individual businesses, like airlines or concert venues, to enforce. 

Some states have already taken steps to block the use of vaccine passports in reopening businesses. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that bars businesses from requiring proof of vaccination and the state government from creating its own vaccine passport platform. In Texas, an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits the use of vaccine passports by government agencies as well as by businesses and state-funded institutions. 

Opponents of vaccine passports have said they violate users’ privacy and are ripe for fraudulent activity. There are also concerns that it would deepen divides between wealthy countries that have had rapid vaccine rollouts and those that have not.

But, some entities are forging ahead with developing these verification system in the US. 

New York recently became the first state to roll out its own vaccine passport program. Called the Excelsior Pass and developed by IBM, the program stores information about whether the holder has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19. The state is currently requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test result to enter theaters, sports stadiums, and weddings, and the program — which can be used via app or printout — simplifies that process.  

Meanwhile, airport security company Clear is currently developing its own vaccine validation service, and Walmart is offering a verification app that can be used by people who are vaccinated in its stores. A group of 22 airlines is additionally testing the IATA Travel Pass for air travel.

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