Why flexibility and scalability are vital to COVID-19 vaccine verification

By Mark Delaney  

With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in full swing in the U.S., increasing travel and tourism rates signify the beginning of a return to normalcy for the nation’s hospitality industry. Recent data released by STR revealed U.S. hotel occupancy grew by 49% in March, a 20% uptick from January, and nearly half of the more than 107 million vaccinated Americans are planning to travel this summer. That means 53 million people (and rising) will likely resume traveling and staying at hotels in the coming months, leading many to prepare for increased demand.

As hotels take proactive measures to maintain a safe operating environment amid rapidly rising occupancy levels, many are considering the implementation of COVID-19 vaccine verification systems that can authenticate the COVID-19 vaccination records and test results of incoming guests. With certifiable proof that guests are inoculated or COVID-negative, hoteliers can more confidently ease occupancy limits, eliminate quarantine obligations for out-of-state/international travelers and alleviate the safety concerns of guests and employees—three essential elements to boosting RevPAR rates for post-pandemic financial recovery. But those that decide to leverage vaccine verification systems must maintain a dual focus on flexibility and scalability to reduce the burden on both guests and staff.

A flexible framework
Since the U.S. government isn’t mandating the use of a universal vaccine verification system, there will be multiple forms of health credentials used by travelers. While digitizing the vaccine certification process may be the most simplified and efficient method, it’s important to remember the concept of digital vaccine verification apps is a polarizing topic among Americans. Some Americans aren’t comfortable with digital certificates because of privacy concerns, while others—especially senior citizens and people from impoverished communities—don’t have equal access to the smartphone technology required to securely store and present digital certificates.

Therefore, entirely digitized vaccine verification systems may not be the most logical approach for hotels. Whether it’s a plastic card with a scannable barcode, a CDC-issued paper certificate or a digital vaccine credential, hotels must be able to accommodate both physical and digital formats in order to welcome guests without discrimination. In reality, that cannot be accomplished without a flexible vaccine verification system.

A scalable ecosystem
Considering the state of the pandemic is constantly evolving, vaccine verification systems should be highly scalable in order to remain effective. Creating a foundational framework that incorporates collaboration with government bodies, healthcare providers, vaccine administration sites and technology companies can help hoteliers take steps to continue improving their verification systems as they encounter new challenges.

For example, in an effort to combat the rising use of fraudulent vaccine credentials, hotels could work in conjunction with vaccine providers and technology companies to develop interoperable QR barcode labels that can be placed on the back of a customer’s physical certificate. During the check-in process, front desk attendants would simply scan the guest’s barcode with a handheld mobile computer, tablet or standalone barcode scanner to retrieve data that verifies their identity and authenticates their proof of vaccination or COVID-19 test results without access to private records.

As the hospitality industry’s opportunity for post-pandemic recovery gets closer by the day, it’s never been more important for hotels to have public health measures in place for navigating a return to normalcy. If a vaccine verification system is included in those measures, prioritizing flexibility and scalability could dictate its rate of success.

Mark Delaney is a retail industry consultant at Zebra Technologies. In this role, he works with retailers’ c-level leaders to determine which strategic technology solutions can best address their current challenges. He has more than 20 years of experience in the retail industry and has worked with most large retailers globally.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.