The Philippine tourism industry is a billion dollar economic contributor to the country’s economy. Before the pandemic, the tourism industry employed over 10.4 million Filipinos and contributed 12.7% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2019. According to the study published by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), tourism in the Philippines in 2019 logged over 8.3 million tourist arrivals and PHP 550.2 billion in international tourism receipts. However in 2020, tourist arrivals and international tourism receipts have gone down to 3.9 million and PHP 279.5 billion, respectively as the Philippine economy suffered an economic contraction in the same year.
It can be noted that the lockdowns and community quarantine measures started in mid-March 2020 – a season leading to summer where tourism is reaching its historical peak. Fast forward in our second year where tourism and travel is vastly affected by the recent shift of Metro Manila to the Modified Extended Community Quarantine (MECQ), and there are genuine fears that any semblance for normalcy is still very far away.
IATA Health Passport
In an attempt to slowly but cautiously reopen the tourism industry, the Philippine Airlines (PAL) have announced that it will be joining the global trial conducted by the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) for their IATA Travel Pass app that ties-in verified COVID-19 negative results of a person upon a health security check entity such as airports and airlines. As part of the small trial, PAL will conduct its trials with the IATA passport app in select flights to Manila to Los Angeles and Singapore. Earlier this year, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) have announced that they have successfully conducted trials with the IATA app and travelers destined for Singapore will be able to use the IATA app.
With the IATA app, passengers bound for Singapore can embue and share their pre-departure Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) upon airlines check-in or at the Changi airport.
The IATA app is known as the IATA Travel Pass globally. Unveiled to the public last year, the IATA app is built around the highest standards of data protection laws, including General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR) set in Europe. The design and information structure is based on the concept of Self-Sovereign Identity* (SSI) where a person’s information and background are under their custody and is securely verified on-demand by a security checkpoint. The App is available in Android and Apple app stores. It follows the Apple Secure Enclave and Android essential security encryption respectively.
The app is designed with interoperability in-mind as domestic and international territory protocols have different procedures on health veracity checks with their respective information processing systems for immigration through the following features:
- SSI Structure similar to Digital Wallets
- Applicable and Valid for pre-boarding and pre-arrival clearance, as it includes digital vaccination certificates to be imbued into in the IATA Travel Pass.
- In compliance with global standards recognized by governments to ensure verified identity and test/vaccine information.
- Will scale and comply with the World Health Organization (WHO) future rollout of their health digital certificates
- Contactless travel checks in compliance with One ID
The IATA issued a simple and user-friendly manual in their site for anyone who will use the app for their travel in the soonest or in the near future. IATA notes:
- HOW TO DOWNLOAD: Download the free IATA Travel Pass to their Smart phone and login
- SELF PHOTO AS A START: Take a self photo aka selfie with the smart phone
- SECURITY CHECK FOR SSI: Complete a liveness test as instructed by the phone – i.e., move their head, close their eyes in front of the camera as instructed
- DIGITAL PASSPORT SCAN: Scan the data on the two lines at the bottom of the passport photo page with their smart phones and scan the data-chip on the passport as prompted by the phone
- DIGITAL MATCHING AI: The IATA Travel Pass then matches the photo with the passport data (which contains a digital biometric photo of the passport holder) to verify that (1) the passport belongs to the person in front of the phone and (2) that the passport is genuine and has not been tampered with.
- VERIFICATION The verified digital travel credential is then stored on the passenger’s phone and can be used as their ‘digital passport/ ID’.
What Does this Mean for the Philippines?
The Philippines has a historical record of quickly adopting technology to keep in pace with emerging global standards. With the incoming trial and adoption of the IATA Travel App and its feature to carry verified / secured health passports tied in to a person’s SSI, it is a great first step in promoting a safer and sustainable travel industry within its local and international flights. This is a first step in revitalizing the tourism industry.
It offers the following extended value to flyers:
- Comply with global standards on vaccination proof and international safety standards
- Provide a secured and verified way to present vaccinated or healthy travelers.
- Contactless processing means this is not another added layer of queues or friction on the onboarding and arrival process in Philippine airports.
- A secured way to strengthen the country’s contact tracing.
- Improve passenger and tourist confidence on travel and industry.
- Slowly but cautiously reopen the travel and tourism.
The country is eager to regain its economic vigor and 2021 is a vital year for the nation to get its economy roaring again – through the influx of Direct Foreign Investments (DFI) and international tourism – which are dependent on travels towards the country. The month of May 2021 is the start of the IATA trial by the Philippine Airlines. Starting with a small subset of flights to Manila, to Los Angeles, California and Singapore, the test is a step towards the commercial scalability of the digital passport across domestic travel between nations. It is an indication of the authorities’ plan to comply with emerging global standards on health protocols through the tutelage of technology. Expect the trial to last for a month and the following weeks before the Philippine Airlines scales its application on all travels destined to the Philippines and to the other nations as health and safety is now the premium focus when traveling.
This article is published on BitPinas: Health Passports in the Philippines for a Safer Tourism and Travel