Confusing air travel protocols impact medical travel in Asia

Most leading Asian medical destinations get their business from other Asian countries or domestically, and both global and domestic markets rely heavily on air travel. Confusing protocols currently in place in various Asian countries will, however, restrict medical tourism.

As vaccines continue to roll out across the globe and domestic air travel looks set to return in the near future, AirAsia is calling for a standardised approach to travel protocols to help re-start international air travel. To resume cross-border travel activity effectively and safely, says the company, a mutually agreed global framework approach is needed.

Travel requirements in Asia are currently complex and uncoordinated, and travel bubbles are limited and under used. AirAsia is urging for the implementation of travel passes to be co-ordinated among countries. It wants the tourism industry to work together with one consistent set of protocols and procedures for guests, such as testing and vaccination requirements, coupled with a mutually agreed common digital health pass and with the expansion of travel bubbles.

AirAsia has reviewed COVID-19 procedures and protocols in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, China and Australia. The review confirmed that existing travel requirements vary across countries, making it challenging and difficult for travellers to understand and follow.

The different travel protocols across regional countries also pose operational difficulties to airlines and travel operators. Without common travel protocols, manual verification of health and travel documents becomes more time consuming and is prone to error and fraud, especially with an increase in the use of fake health certification.

The AirAsia report also concluded that travel bubbles currently implemented in the region are mostly limited to business and essential travellers only. The report recommends these need to be quickly extended to medical tourists and holiday travellers; to be implemented in phases, starting with destinations in safe zones.

Facilitating medical and leisure travel will provide instant impact based on strong pent-up demand. Travel risk can be minimised through implementation of strict standard operating procedures and various measures, including point-to-point controlled travel, fixed itineraries and contact tracing apps.

AirAsia has launched Scan2Fly, allowing customers to scan and upload their medical documentation during the online check-in process to confirm they are approved to fly in real time before heading to the airport. Scan2Fly can be integrated into other globally approved platforms from different countries. AirAsia will also soon roll-out biometric facial recognition technology across key airports, launching in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia2) in April.