Sustainable urban travel after Covid

Smart cities are being hailed as the way forward in post-pandemic travel with digital ‘vaccine passports’ being introduces meant to facilitate the safe recovery of international movement post-pandemic – mitigating the potential adverse effects of cross-border tourism and global mobility through more sustainable travel management.

As the world shifts from lockdown to locomotion, the industry behind machine-readable travel documents thinks about the digital immunity passport and its future applications.


Countries are starting to turn from red to amber to green as travel restrictions lift and while there has been a significantly downturn in e-Passport production, it seems the race is on to capture a corner of the ‘e-vac’ passport market with prototypes emerging such as the V-Health passport and the Covid-19 immunity passport.

The premise behind these health documents is to link a person’s identity to their coronavirus test results or vaccination certificate. Those deemed immune or clear of the virus can prove their status (for instance to authorities and employers) by showing a code typically generated by an app. This can be linked to some form of biometric identification such as a photograph or fingerprint.

The latest app to help ease travel restrictions is the IATA Travel Pass launched for airline passengers to securely store and share Covid-19 vaccination and test results. This mobile phone application is set to be rolled out as a fully functional system for trials with at least 20 airlines. It is meant to give both the flying public and governments confidence that tests and vaccinations declared by passengers are valid, as paper test and vaccination certificates are – like many other breeder documents – open to fraud.

So, is the autoID industry ready to embrace this spurt of innovation and growth – or will it consider immunity passports a limited opportunity with an end-point? For sure, the global e-Passport market is predicted to struggle to reach pre-Covid levels until 2024. As countries entered and exited Covid-19 lockdowns over the past year, ABI Research shows the passport market has seen a sharp downturn as international travel opportunities remain largely reduced and inconsistent. Figures show the pandemic forced the worldwide shipments of e-Passports to drop from 192 million in 2019 to 116 million in 2020. The sharp decline in issuance levels, a YoY decrease of -3 percent, has been attributed to border closures, severe restrictions on international travel, and shutdowns for credential enrolment and personalization centers. Also, smart driver’s license shipments fell to 56 million units in 2020, down from 57 million units in 2019, driven mainly by Covid-19 induced project delays or postponements. Predictions also show projects that have already begun issuance, such as those in Turkey, Italy, and Bangladesh, will continue to issue, but at reduced volumes.

So how can the ‘eVac’ Passport go some way to filling the void? Technology may produce the solutions, but governments are of course at the heart of the success and implementation of any trials and roll outs. If they are to work and be accepted on a global scale, the public sector needs to ensure their regulations are essentially not inhibiting as they ease national and regional lockdowns, re-open borders without quarantine and restart aviation and ground travel. Also, the privacy issue is bound to raise its head, so the technology deployed in any of these schemes, needs to be GDPR compliant and built on a privacy framework of so-called ‘Self Sovereign Identity’ where users can choose what information they want to share.

Just as the Covid-19 virus might be here to stay, the vaccine certification may become part of the stable of prevention for all life-threatening viruses the world has live with for decades – yellow fever, smallpox, cholera, flu. Digital technology remains at the forefront of secure border crossing and access control, soon allowing us to also prove our fitness to travel and avoid social distancing.