What Do Covid Passports Mean for Meetings?

At SMU International, Travelocity founder Terrell Jones discussed the controversy and benefits of requiring proof of vaccination.

Terrell Jones SMU International Covid Passports
Terrell Jones, speaking at SMU International. Photo Credit: Kevin McCormick

Covid-19 restrictions are constantly changing, by local jurisdiction, by state and by country. As infection rates surge in many places, some countries, cruise lines and even restaurants are beginning to require proof of vaccination. What will such requirements, or the use Covid-19 "passports," mean for meetings?

At SMU International, which is underway Aug. 26-28 at the Sheraton New York in Times Square, Terrell Jones — founder of Travelocity and founding chair of Kayak — discussed how these new rules will affect future events.

While vaccine passports are being implemented in some states like New York and Hawaii, 25 states have banned them. “This is something that’s become a controversial topic that does not need to be that way,” said Jones to the 120 buyers and suppliers attending the event.

For meetings in the United States, rules will vary by location. In New York City, for instance, attendees of any indoor events must provide proof of vaccination. For SMU International, Northstar required all attendees to provide proof of at least one dose of vaccination. Rules also vary by organizer, regardless of the destination: The Consumer Technology Association announced earlier this month that in-person attendees must provide proof of vaccination for CES 2022 in Las Vegas. A virtual CES option will also be offered.

“I think hybrid meetings are here for a while,” Jones said, adding that we can address in-person requirements accordingly. “I think a really good alternative for most people is to say, ‘We’re having a vaccinated meeting, but you can attend virtually if prefer.’”

Adapting to New Health Requirements

Proof of inoculation is becoming an increasingly common stipulation in many settings, from college campuses to cruise lines. About half of U.S. workers favor such a requirement in the workplace, according to a recent poll. As that becomes more common, public attitudes are bound to shift, according to Jones. "It’s not giving up our civil rights," he asserted. "It’s just like a visa that you need to get into another country. So deal with it, because we’re going to see it in more and more places."

Vaccine passports will be particularly relevant for international meetings, as they have already been implemented in the European Union and elsewhere. "Your attendees are going to have to deal with this around the world," said Jones.

Further complicating matters is the variety of vaccines that exist around the globe. When planning or attending an international meeting, Jones recommends not only checking the country’s travel restrictions, but also which vaccines are approved. Planners must clearly communicate to attendees all requirements, from the need for face masks or negative Covid tests to inoculation status and which vaccines have been approved where.

Ultimately, Jones foresees the meetings industry adopting vaccination requirements en masse. "[Vaccination mandates] are a political hot potato," Jones said. "But it’s also important for us to be in business."

There's growing evidence around the world that supports his assertion. Denmark just announced that the nation will soon drop Covid-related restrictions because 80 percent of the population is now vaccinated. And in Iceland, where 90 percent of the population is inoculated, there hasn't been a case of Covid-19 since May, noted Jones. "It’s a pretty good test of what could happen if everybody gets vaccinated," he said.