In an attempt to revive an ailing travel industry, the creation of a digital ‘health pass’, digital documents holding everything from a negative COVID test, recent travel movements, and vaccine confirmation, could hold the key to getting us moving again. In order to be successful, it will require an overhaul of the customer experience, as well as raising questions about managing social equality and privacy.
With so many of us eager to safely and freely travel again, it appears the digital health pass may become an unavoidable checkbox in the process. How will this new infrastructure impact the brand experience?
Enter the Digital Health Pass
The aim of the health pass is that by allowing travelers to uniformly and efficiently present health data confirming they have either tested negative in the last couple of days or even hours, show proof of vaccination, as well as location data and travel history of recent movements, governments and businesses will have the requisite information to allow entry with reduced or removed quarantines.
Towards the end of 2020, there were many early-stage discussions of travel corridors utilizing personal health and travel data as a prerequisite for travel. Hong Kong and Singapore attempted, and then postponed, the introduction of a travel bubble between the two hubs, with passengers having to present a negative COVID-19 test and proof they haven’t traveled elsewhere in the last 14 days in exchange for quarantine-free travel. The US and UK also tested a similar plan between Newark and Heathrow, hoping to restart travel on the hugely lucrative New York/London route.
Both trials used a digital health app called CommonPass, which was launched by the World Economic Forum and the Commons Project Foundation. The project’s aim is to establish an accepted international standard of COVID-19 related data, such as test and vaccine information, that can enable the significant cross-border coordination required to get us flying again safely. Once a traveler has taken the required tests or vaccinations, the information is uploaded to the CommonPass app along with proof of adherence to other requirements from the destination country. The app then generates a QR code used by border control personnel and airlines during the journey.
Managing the Brand and Customer Experience
Although the travel industry has been the driving force behind the creation of digital health passes, as 2021 progresses we will likely see many other industries adopting the technology. It is not far-fetched to imagine a world where a health pass is required to enter stadiums, concert venues, museums, and workplaces. Although on the surface it is perhaps a seemingly small change to the broader experience, the addition of apps like CommonPass will require brands to rethink and rebuild the customer experience, both physically and digitally.
Let’s take air travel. With the requirement of testing and a health pass, the entire experience will need to be explored, from how travellers enter the airport and where testing is conducted, through to reassessing airlines’ digital services to ensure seamless integration with apps like CommonPass.
This will entail companies reassessing the brand experience that they worked so hard to build. Taking an airline like Delta, for example, the new process throws up a myriad of brand and experience questions. How does the Delta app integrate with CommonPass and how will this impact the check-in process?
How will the digital health pass-related information appear on the Delta website experience during search and purchase?
How will the visual and verbal design elements of Delta and a health pass service integrate to deliver a coherent brand experience?
All of this will need to be addressed if brands want to maintain a degree of control over the experience their customers have.
Reassessing the Employee Experience
As always with experience initiatives, it is not only the customer experience that must be considered — the employee experience also plays a central role. Huge numbers of employees across industries from travel, hospitality, and entertainment will be tasked with implementing, utilizing, and managing this new digital and physical experience. With that task comes the need to create new employee digital tools and systems, as well as the training that accompanies them.
This will require brands across the spectrum to conduct CX initiatives in order to understand, track, and measure this new brand experience. Only when armed with this information can they ensure they are providing the seamless experience they require to grow and differentiate themselves.
A New Level of Business Cooperation
In order for health passes to create a seamless and reliable way to get us moving again, a standardization of accepted formats of health data must be established. This will result in companies banding together in order to establish a technology and experience that can be interoperable and applied consistently for consumers.
The start of 2021 has already seen this begin to take shape with the creation of the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI). The VCI is made up of a diverse group of technology and health companies including, but not limited to, the Mayo Clinic, Oracle, Evernorth, Salesforce, the Cairn Alliance, and of course, the Commons Project Foundation. This group is aiming to standardize and streamline digitized vaccination records, so that companies and consumers can confidently use these records to open up business again.
Initiatives like this, and future requirement and adoption of digital health passes, will demonstrate once again that it is business — not government — that will drive social change and have the greatest impact on our future experience.
A Statement for Your Brand?
Finally, brands will be aware that adopting and requiring health passes from their customers is a statement in itself of their stance regarding COVID-19. A statement of how seriously they take public health; a statement on the efficacy of vaccinations; and a statement on who they believe their customers are.
Anger and scepticism regarding masks and vaccinations within certain groups is well documented, with recent issues enforcing mask compliance on airlines as the clearest example of challenges brands may face going forward.
The mask and safety measures within the airline industry have created a clear juxtaposition of brands that have committed to strongly enforcing a range of safety measures, such as Delta, and those with a more hands-off approach, feeling it is less necessary for their brand and their customers. We will see this juxtaposition play out across all industries as health passes become widely available, creating both opportunities to reinforce a brand, and pitfalls for those that lack a clear stance.
It is clear that our experiences will look and feel vastly different for the foreseeable future, as companies and governments aim to restart safe international travel, and reopen the many industries so badly impacted by COVID-19. The change will require already strained companies to invest in, and reengineer, the customer and employee experience, while taking stock of where their brand stands. For travellers and customers, it will require an acceptance that in order to move freely and get back to normal, the provision of health data will be a necessary trade-off.