Credit Pixabay torstensimon

Shortly after the remarkable news a jab had been developed that could end the coronavirus pandemic, “vaccine tourism” was trending on Google

Chalkmarks: Where can I travel to get a Covid-19 vaccine?
Credit: Google Trends

THE latest growth area in travel could come from a new and unexpected corner: vaccine tourism. It might be controversial but the number of online search queries regarding travel and the Covid-19 vaccine has grown—it’s up +658% since the end of the December—just around the time Britain rolled out its vaccination programme. The question on everyone’s mind is when will I get mine?

“Vaccine tourism” searches spiked mid-January. The most were made by people in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, South Africa, India and Australia. Clearly people don’t want to wait. Currently six vaccines are being used by different countries. At least two more are on the way, made by Novavax and Johnson & Johnson, but even then these won’t be enough to reach the planet’s 7.7bn population this year. Some of the world’s richest countries including the UK and Canada have ordered more doses than they need. Israel and the UK are expected to start a return to normal life in 2021. When people elsewhere see how far behind they are in the queue, they take to the internet to ask how and where they can buy a vaccine.

What is the law?

Currently there are no official rules regarding “vaccine tourism”. Most countries, similar to the UK, are inviting citizens to come forward following a priority list of groups. The term itself is thought to have come from India where travel agents recently marketed “vaccine tourism packages” to the UK and the US. It has already become an issue in America where thousands have travelled across the country for a jab. Florida has attempted to stop the practice after it was reported that Canadians were flying in to receive a vaccine and some 40,000 people had already been given shots whose address was listed “out of state”. Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the behaviour of those travelling to get inoculated was “abhorrent”.

On the rise

The sharp rise in “vaccine tourism” was revealed when Google presented its real-time data charts at the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Its online trends point to consumer intentions and can be used to predict demand. Spotted early enough, businesses have time to plan and prepare for new opportunities. Its global destinations marketing partner Iva Kutle Skrlec said that while the issue was controversial it needed communication management, sooner than later.

She said: “The area that is definitely growing and that needs to be managed from a communications perspective is the relationship between the vaccine and travel. You can see this huge spike recently that started at the end of the December. People are trying to figure out all the rumours, and the vaccine passport, and “do I need to get vaccinated to travel?”. This is really for DMOs [Destination Marketing Organisations] and other major stakeholders in the industry to make sure that accurate and up-to-date information is provided. There’s also a lot of interest in vaccine tourism, as controversial as it might be, that’s why it’s important to manage this topic than let it flow freely.”

The question “when will I get mine?” won’t go away and Google can’t answer this one.

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