OECD Ministers Launch International Travel Initiative

Ministers of the Organization for Cooperation & Development (OECD) have endorsed a new initiative to promote safe international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic at the OECD’s annual Ministerial meeting in Paris.

That initiative involves a safe travel blueprint and a temporary international cross-sectoral forum for knowledge sharing.

The forum will allow governments and stakeholders to share information in real time on plans and approaches facilitating travel. The blueprint promotes greater certainty, safety and security in travel as reopening takes place. It builds on existing initiatives and aims to increase interoperability amongst travel regimes. It will be used by countries on a voluntary basis.

International air passenger transport dropped around 75% in 2020 and international tourism fell by around 80%.

For the average OECD country, pre-pandemic, international tourism contributed 4.4% of GDP, 6.9% of employment, and 21.5% of service exports, but with much higher shares for some countries, including Greece, Iceland, Mexico, Portugal and Spain. The halt in international travel and tourism is having a dramatic knock-on impact on the entire, interlinked global economy.

During the Paris meeting, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría pointed out that: “The OECD is in a unique position to help countries coordinate international action in the context of reopening global travel. This initiative will help reduce uncertainty and complexity and enable countries to prepare more effectively for a return to safe international travel and tourism.”

The OECD points out that without an international framework for travel policies, a patchwork of national and regional rules, inconsistent with each other, will continue to be confusing and costly for travellers and transport and tourism companies, discouraging travel due to the uncertainty and complexity. It could also increase the incidence of use of fraudulent certificates and so undermine the ability of authorities to mitigate public health risks.

Initiated by Spain, the OECD Blueprint supports and complements existing international initiatives, such as the European Union’s proposed Digital COVID-19 Certificate by taking a principles-based approach to ensuring that they are compatible with each other, and adopted in a consistent way across a range of countries.

The OECD notes that the Blueprint is a flexible and voluntary set of guidelines not a legal text. It consists of a traffic-light system to classify risks; guidance on how vaccination should be certified for travel to those countries that decide to take vaccination status into account; protocols for testing travellers in different circumstances; and principles to be followed in generating electronic certificates for travel that ensure privacy protection and security and promote interoperability among systems.

Countries that use the OECD Blueprint may do so unilaterally or in bilateral or multilateral agreements, or through mechanisms provided in other bodies, such as, in particular the ICAO Public Health Corridor arrangement.

WTTC Welcomes Initiative

Reacting to the announcement, World Travel & Tourism Council senior vice president, Virginia Messina said: “We welcome the OECD initiative to safely restart international travel under their proposed framework, which give countries the flexibility to lower or raise their health protection measures while coordinating their responses within the international community.”

Messina continued: “We also want to congratulate the Spanish for taking the lead to spearhead this initiative which provides a firm foundation for future global consistency and will be key in the fight against the pandemic and safely reviving international travel.”

And she noted that: “WTTC was delighted to participate in its development, and we are pleased that the importance of the private sector having a seat at the table has been recognized, bringing our own unique perspectives and suggestions for action for debate to enable the resumption of mobility.”

Messina added: “We hope to see many Member States swiftly adopt this less restrictive blueprint model proposed by the OECD which could save the global Travel & Tourism sector and provide a vital boost to the world’s economic recovery.”