Dubai overtook London Heathrow as the world’s busiest international airport in 2014.
Now Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths has said that Covid-19 digital vaccination passports are the only way to restart mass foreign travel.
“I don’t think there is an alternative,” he told the BBC.
Critics of the idea of vaccine passports argue they discriminate against those who cannot or will not get vaccinated.
But Griffiths says the documents are “inevitable”.
“I think the problem is not the vaccine passport and discrimination. It’s the need to roll things out and have a proper globally equitable vaccine programme,” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and World Travel & Tourism Council are among those opposed to vaccine passports amid fears they will create a “two-tier society”.
Last month, Dr Mike Ryan from WHO repeated concerns about ethical and fairness issues. “These issues do need to be considered, especially in a world where vaccines are distributed in such a grossly inequitable way,” he said.
The desire to avoid new outbreaks of coronavirus has led to the emergence of several different Covid travel passes. The European Union, the G20 and International Air Transport Association are all working on schemes.
Griffiths says even if multiple systems are introduced for checking passengers, Dubai airport can avoid queues like those seen at London Heathrow.
“Whatever the system, we will adapt our processes to ensure that our passengers aren’t put in long queues,” he said. “If international air travel is to get moving again, it’s up to the countries to decide what the entry requirements are, and it’s up to the airlines and airports around the world to enforce it.”
He insists that the digital age will make cyber passports reliable and easy.
“If this all works, and everyone comes together, vaccine passports will be a very, very simple way of us travelling without documents around the world.”
In the US, several states have already taken a stand against vaccine passports.
The Arizona governor said in April, “Residents of our state should not be required by the government to share their private medical information. Vaccination is up to each individual, not the government.”
The Idaho governor went even further: “Vaccine passports create different classes of citizens.”
USA Today reports that many public health experts are exasperated by the controversy, given that Americans have long been expected to provide proof of vaccination in several circumstances.
Schools typically require students to be vaccinated, and proof of vaccination has long been a staple of international travel.
Though critics fear the technology could be used to restrict the daily freedoms of Americans, few health experts want or expect that.
Nevertheless, the White House has ruled out introducing mandatory federal Covid-19 vaccination passports, saying citizens’ privacy and rights should be protected.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there would be no “federal vaccinations database”, and the president did not and would not support a “system that requires Americans to carry a single vaccination credential”.
On this issue, Americans could soon find themselves out of step with the rest of the world and grounded for international travel, say international travel analysts.