The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the urgency of a global vaccine drive. But in most countries, the demand has exceeded the supply. Livelihood has come to a standstill and the nature of international travel is in a limbo.
Many destinations have chalked out a parameter of rules and regulations in accordance with their own risk assessment. The curtailments are imposed in the form of complete bans on international travel, restricted acceptance of travellers from hotspot regions, or limited movement allowed between certain countries as part of the travel bubble arrangement. According to the annual Economic Impact Report of the World Travel and Tourism Council, the tourism sector lost $4.5 trillion and 62 million jobs in 2020, while the airline industry has lost $126 billion with an estimated $48 billion set to be wiped out this year.
The rollout of vaccines is reportedly making many countries, and their respective industries eager to welcome travellers once again. Summers are usually considered the liveliest time for tourism.
New York recently announced a scheme to offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to tourists visiting the American city. Photo by: Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock
Most nations have begun to ease restrictions for foreign travellers by initiating policies that allow citizens who are either fully vaccinated, belonging to countries deemed safe, able to provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test, or willing to adhere to mandatory quarantine or electronic monitoring. The onset of inoculation drives has brought forth the idea of a vaccine passport, where the affirmation of complete vaccination is being used to resume tourism in a safe manner. The policy is now being incorporated by tourism-reliant countries such as the Seychelles, and in the form of digital certificates in China, Japan and territories that are a part of the European Union.
The recent months have also seen a rise in vaccine tourism—a situation where people travel to other countries in order to secure a jab of one of the new vaccines that have entered the market this year, either of their own will, or the ones offered by the host country to lure tourists. From simply crossing state lines to paying upwards Rs40,00,000, the ethically complicated situation of vaccine tourism has taken myriad forms.
The landlocked Republic of San Marino is one of the first countries to have officially initiated a vaccine tourism programme from May 17. It requires visitors to book a three-night stay in one of their 19 listed hotels, where the property owners arrange an appointment for guests with the local health authorities to avail two of the Russian Sputnik-V shots at the cost of Rs4,500approximately. A group of four from Latvia were the first to avail this offer in May, with future plans to return to the country for their second dose.
The U.A.E. is emerging as a hot destination for those who wish to seek a luxurious getaway along with a dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Photo by: Sarath maroli/Shutterstock
Maldives, which has received a significant amount of vaccines from India, China and the WHO’s Covax scheme, has also announced its plan to officially launch a tourist vaccination campaign in the near future. The offer seems especially lucrative, considering most of the tourists visiting the country seem to be spending an extended period of time at the destination, and have even set up their workcation base with jaw-dropping sea vistas that are traded for corporate office spaces.
The crème de la crème circle has managed to keep luxury tourism afloat. Knightsbridge Circle—a travel and lifestyle service provider that charges approximately Rs22,00,000 for its annual services—is offering a three-week package for Rs8,00,000to fly its members aged over 65, over to the U.A.E. to get them shots of China’s Sinopharm vaccine. Following the announcement of a deal made with U.A.E. government, the company is said to have received over 2,000 membership applications and calls from jet companies to transport their clients. A niche section of Indian travellers such as Dubai residents, diplomats and travellers on small business jets are also reported to have been availing the Pfizer vaccine in Dubai.
While many countries face a shortage of and delay in supply of the vaccine, certain countries face the unique case of having them in surplus. Following issues in diplomatic deals that landed Belgrade with 15 million vaccines for its population of seven million and the stall in pace of citizens willing to be vaccinated beyond the two million mark, Serbia took the step to offer its buffet of several vaccines to visitors from its neighbouring country of Bosnia.
Offering shots at airports is another initiative deemed effective. Alaska in the United States is said to have implemented the policy. A rather fascinating destination, however, was the Bran Castle of Transylvania, more famously known as Dracula’s Castle, which had hosted vaccine weekends along with a tour of the castle until June 6.
The Republic of San Marino is one of the first countries to have officially initiated a vaccine tourism programme starting mid-May. Photo by: Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock
Slow roll-out of vaccines in home countries have resulted in an influx of tourists flocking to the neighbouring destinations. The trend is seen in South Africans travelling to Zimbabwe, and Latin Americans and Canadians travelling to the U.S.A. and its borders. New York recently announced a scheme to offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to tourists visiting the American city. Regardless, most cases of travel within the United States is that between states, owing to a difference in vaccine availability and dosage restrictions based on factors such as age and state citizenship.
The Russian Sputnik-V vaccine, however, is garnering great attention in the vaccine tourism market. With Germans facing an issue of uneven vaccine distribution, several news outlets have reported travel agencies such as the Norwegian World Visitor have had up to 600 people from Germany and Switzerland sign up for double three-day trips to Moscow to secure their jabs. It is the same vaccine that created news in India, with the Dubai-based Arabian Nights offering a 24-day vacation to Russia for a whopping fee of Rs1,29,000. With the offer eventually debunked and various others popping up on news portals, the ethically grey status of vaccine tourism comes to light, where its legitimacy is questioned, and requires thorough discretion on the part of the traveller to be vigilant of the risks involved.
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is an Army kid and student at DSE who has been travelling the country since his senses first kicked in. He's also a lover of road trips, especially when he's the one behind the wheels, and hopes for many more journeys on the road.
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