How many of you took the risk this holiday season and traveled out of the country?
If you had, you would have had the same shared experience that everyone who flies to Trinbago has been blessed since the borders reopened. Whether you’re a frequent traveler or a first-timer, everyone has the same great experience of filling out a new Travel Pass to gain access.
Recognizing that there are many eloquent critics of the process, we will leave the rebuke aside and constructively consider how it could be and has been resolved elsewhere.
Before all this started, we could reduce our suffering at the airport by simply checking in online in advance. Electronic boarding pass in hand, you can walk through the airport with just your passport and phone, both of which have been checked at security and rarely until you land.
Now, in addition to needing our Travel Pass, we have to queue to check in so they can check the things we used to get the Travel Pass – passport, proof of vaccination, PCR test. They can check them again at the gate for good measure before we are allowed to board the plane. Piarco’s queues seem faster because the queues are in the hallways rather than the immigration hallways, but besides having a look at your Travel Pass they still want “originals” – on your phone, in the form of photos – and to write your information on a strange shaped paper.
To protect the health of our island, a process that was once a minor frustration has been transformed into something that has left more than a few travelers stranded, forced to extend their trips and spend more hard-earned USD to get home.
We believe we can all have both safety and speed, with just a few tweaks.
Take tests to travel
We know that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and we applaud the government’s notable successes in managing the pandemic so far. The Travel Pass was an ambitious and surprisingly well-executed solution. The issues we feel stem from the limited usefulness of a single-use travel solution and people running outdated processes.
Almost every country in the world has agreed to require negative test results to enter, many have also closed their borders at times to limit viral spread. However, few countries have used these challenges as opportunities to transform for the better. Most do even less than Trinidad and Tobago, in fact, only asking airlines to verify test results and trusting them so much that customs ignores it.
What does “better” look like? As if your travel pass was just one piece of a holistic digital pass that you could also use upon arrival. A digital wallet that lets you sit down to dinner at a restaurant without giving out your name and number or showing your ID again. A digital wallet that lets you get a SIM card, file your taxes or apply for a job, and all the other paper-filled parts of our lives we’d rather not repeat.
Have you seen the research showing “Your cell phone is ten times dirtier than a toilet seat” that made the rounds in 2020? Now stop thinking about all the times you’ve passed your phone to show a vaccine card recently.
Avoid handing your phone over to be touched by the same hands that touched the 300 phones before yours.
Return to online check-in, waltz through security, and simply wave the boarding pass in your phone screen above the scanner at the gate as you stroll along the walkway. Keep this app handy because once you land in Trinidad you can just wave it at the customs officer and waltz straight there too, no more queues.
It’s better than the old normal. The only new thing is a stronger, safer and more solid way to keep track of all the things we need to prove about ourselves and when they happened. This uses blockchain technology for more than money and NFTs.
Each step, from proof of vaccination to proof of authorization to travel and proof of health, simply asks you to prove a few “yes or no” things about yourself.
Today, in the midst of a global pandemic, we end up sharing a lot of additional information and germs, millions of germs, just so we don’t have to deal with collaboration or trust issues.
But we can do better. In fact, there would be no need for glasses or special devices for this alternate reality, no need to send out barcoded plastic cards or order special kiosks, just your phone and you.
To get here, we just need to move the photos from our phones that are in our photo album for everyone to see, somewhere safe with other important documents in a digital wallet like Apple Pay for travel and live. Using data anchored in a blockchain, we can prove something to be true or false without paperwork, sharing private information, or trusting anyone, just like a bitcoin transaction.
If this digital wallet used the global standards that are being tested in Canada, Germany and a handful of other pioneering countries, we would be entering the age of innovation and coming out of the pandemic a little better. We would also be able to circumnavigate the globe and welcome the world to our borders without the pain of extra passes, just simple interoperability, much like our existing passports, made more useful.
Kesha Julien and Louis Kinley are co-founders of Caripay, a technology company committed to helping Latin America and the Caribbean fully participate in the digital economy. Have any comments or ideas you’d like us to cover? Contact us at [email protected]