Interoperability: connecting health and travel pass apps
Robin Ingle discusses the challenges of connecting all the different apps travellers are now being asked to download and run, which store their valuable personal data and allow them touchless entry into countries around the world
Covid as a driver of change
Covid-19 negatively changed our lives, but it also spurred the development and use of digital products and services everywhere, from touchless payments, telemedicine, and Track and Trace, to secure ID wallets holding your up-to-date health information. Governments and businesses – especially those in the medical, travel and tourism industries – desperately worked to find solutions to curtail the spread of infections with clear communication, scientific guidance, medical and technological solutions.
If you travelled during the pandemic, you know all about the logistical nightmares that travelling involved – regular temperature checks, testing on departure, arrival and during your quarantine, filling out multiple complicated forms correctly, downloading apps, finding vaccines and uploading vaccine test data so you could demonstrate to whoever asked that you had done all the things needed to be mobile. Companies providing medical assistance services internationally will know more than most about this, as even while the rest of the world remained at home, medical personnel were still working to provide international assistance and repatriation services.
Now after two years, as we start to move out of the most severe parts of the Covid-19 pandemic (in the Western world), many may feel that we can return to the way it was. But will travel/health passes and detailed entry/access requirements to travel be removed completely? In some cases, yes. Many countries and businesses have weighed the chances of mass infection against their economies being seriously damaged. But countries and its citizens are cautious, and many innovations created since 2020 will remain in place.
Recovery and the sustained future of travel
An important part of re-establishing a resilient travel and tourism economy is technology and the interoperability of applications to provide secure, reliable, and authentic health, legal and travel information on the traveller and their destination.
Governments around the world have developed applications and processes that have evolved to be digital hubs, providing local authorities with the ability to house up-to-date information on the status of a traveller so that the majority can move seamlessly through border crossings, and access transportation and hospitality services. The travel, tourism and transportation industries have also adopted technical solutions to ease access to airlines and move the passenger smoothly through the check-in process, and they are working on expanding these digital environments to connect to other services.
The combination of multiple types of online forms, health applications, biometrics, and digital IDs has created a unique need for interoperability between these applications so that the regular traveller is not overwhelmed by their complexit
Electronic travel visa authorisations, used in the US (ESTA), Canada (ETA), Australia and New Zealand, are being adopted by many countries including the UK (UPT), which will require anyone wishing to travel to seek permission in advance of travel with the respective country. These online applications will gather information, assess the risk of the individual traveller, and approve beforehand their right to access the country.
The combination of multiple types of online forms, health applications, biometrics, and digital IDs has created a unique need for interoperability between these applications so that the regular traveller is not overwhelmed by their complexity. The travel and tourism industry is concerned that the regular traveller or traditional spenders on travel – families, older travellers and retirees – will find the rules and processes too hard, creating a fear of making a mistake and being stuck far from home.
Solutions were required for this potentially chaotic technology and logistical problem. So starting in the winter of 2020, the World Travel & Tourism Council, Trust Over IP Foundation, the Good Health Pass Collaborative, and industry associations, began to hold regular brain storming/information sharing meetings bringing together the travel and tourism industry, public health, technology companies and governments to focus on interoperability and the standardisation of the technology being developed. This worldwide effort pushed traditional competitors to work together for the sake of the global travel and tourism industry.
Last year, Health Care Services International Inc. (Novus Health/Travel Navigator) was one of the many international first adopter organisations that took part in the weekly meetings to organise the response to the worldwide need to integrate and connect the applications being developed to manage travel safely and healthily. We were one of the first to develop two different prototypes in partnership with a UK company and a Canadian company who had developed secure biometric ID systems that were trusted by government agencies. A truly interoperable mobile application was developed within our Duty of Care mobile application by incorporating user-controlled biometrics and a secure ID wallet, with the ability to securely upload and share approved medical/test information with approved and authorised requesting bodies.
Using technology to help customers and industries
The digitalisation of travel, accessing countries, transportation and hospitality will continue to expand, with more applications being developed to ease the burden on the traveller and the businesses catering to them. The pandemic not only accelerated the development of applications to manage health, it also identified the need to create seamless, touchless, private and secure interoperable mechanisms to connect these same applications.
How will this affect us in our industry? Having a simple seamless technology solution that enables and encourages travelling will help restart global travel. The insurance industry will also be able to benefit from this boost in health pass technology and the interoperability of the health information housed in these applications. Travel insurance and travel healthcare providers will be able to verify the health status of a potential policyholder with authorisation and see if they are compliant with vaccination or testing rules developed by destinations.