One of the most high-profile victims of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 is the travel industry. Airline operators are on the brink and thousands of smaller businesses face ruin for a single reason – because an obvious way to prevent the spread of a pandemic is to stop people moving around.
As a result, global mobility has almost come to a standstill. In the first few weeks of the crisis, governments issued sweeping travel bans. They were terrified of the potential transmission from international travellers so they stopped them coming in.
Yet, after almost a year of coronavirus, we have got a little smarter and global mobility departments around the world are adapting to the new circumstances. Governments are now realising that carefully managed international mobility will not necessarily open the door to another spike in COVID cases.
Here are a number of factors that make the international movement of professional people safer.
Candidate selection has become more stringent
One immediate and obvious reaction has been that candidates are chosen more carefully. True – they are fewer in number, but they are also being screened before being accepted, and it is possible that vaccination history may be taken into account in future candidate section processes.
Data and biometrics
The ability to track individuals has been key to most countries’ initiatives to control the spread of the coronavirus. This has been made easier by the prevalence of biometric passports, of which there are already 1.2bn in use around the world. As airlines consider making vaccination mandatory for passengers, these advances enable authorities to easily match the identity of the traveller with vaccination or test certificates, thus ensuring they are safe to travel. Some customs authorities are even talking about the dematerialisation of passports altogether as facial recognition technology and other authentication techniques make a physical passport unnecessary. At a time when airports are keen to minimise risk of infection, the prospect of an entirely contactless processing of passengers is seen as both efficient and hygienic.
It is more important than ever to maintain constant communications with assignees. There may be a need to repatriate quickly in the event of a new outbreak, or to inform them of restrictions or requirements for their own safety. Companies have a duty of care towards their assignees and this will be in the spotlight as we gradually emerge from the pandemic.
Greater personal awareness
As individuals, we know so much more than we did at the start of 2020. Those chosen for global assignments understand the risks and the restrictions of life with coronavirus. These are not casual tourists, but professionals for whom this is a career-enhancing move; they are taking it very seriously.
Cause for optimism?
The World Passport Index is used by many as a barometer of the health of global mobility, tracking the ease with which people can travel and under what legal restrictions.
At the end of May this year, there was predictably a 65% drop in the "World Openness Score", but this has since bounced back by 20%. It is clear that the responsible approach of global mobility professionals and their relocation partners has helped to show that international travel can happen safely – and that global mobility is not something that governments or global organisations should be afraid of.