|Those with the cash are willing to spend big in order to skip the queue for a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: AFP |
Shortly after the world’s first public vaccination programmes, were launched with priority given to health workers and the elderly, vaccine tourism has quickly emerged to garner the attention of the super-rich who were not willing to wait their turn.
Knightsbridge Circle, an exclusive travel and lifestyle service provider founded by Stuart McNeill in 2012, is providing a luxury concierge service for people with assets over $800 million to fly them to another country to get a COVID-19 vaccine, which the vast majority of the world populace is not even close to receiving.
McNeill said that about 20 per cent of its members have flown to Abu Dhabi and Dubai to receive the vaccine. Each member paid about $70,000 for a month-long trip to Dubai with first-class Emirates flights and accommodation in a sea-view apartment while waiting for two separate shots of vaccine. “It’s like we’re the pioneers of this new luxury travel vaccine programme,” he told the press.
Currently, Knightsbridge only offers vaccine tourism services to the UAE, where two countries are offering private vaccinations of the Pfizer vaccine, and to India with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Some Indian travel agencies are reportedly advertising vaccine travel packages, including round-trips from India to the US and UK and preparing more packages for vaccine tourism from Russia.
Elsewhere, Mumbai-based Gem Tours & Travels is introducing a four-day VIP tour package that costs around $2,300 to the US. This package includes the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, round-trip airfare, and breakfast. Since it started advertising in late November last year, the company has received more than 4,000 calls and added more than 1,000 subscribers.
After more than one year of stagnation and losses of more than $935 billion, the global tourism industry is looking for ways to adapt to the new normal. This change means developing new tourism strategies with different combinations of products and markets such as long-term travel or mental health tourism – or vaccine tourism, albeit with a shorter lifespan.
These tourism products have great potential for growth as countries are considering easing travel bans and opening up to international tourists in the next few months, if they can prove receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination.
The vaccine passport is an initiative discussed by many European countries and some island nations as a special travel document allowing the holder to travel freely. Thailand, which has opened to foreign visitors since November, is also considering waiving the quarantine requirement for visitors from countries that have started vaccination such as China, Singapore, and the UK.
Some tourism experts said that vaccine tourism has the opportunity to become a trend attracting tourists in the coming time due to the growing tourism demand after a long time of lockdown. Many UK and US nationals are planning to travel and are booking hotels since the two countries launched vaccinations.
According to a survey by consulting firm Oliver Wyman including 4,600 people from nine countries, including the US, UK, Canada, and China, more than 63 per cent of respondents said they would travel after the pandemic ended.
While experts are still unable to confirm the effectiveness of the vaccine, some isolated tourism sites like remote islands offering many resort services and high-end products such as the Maldives, Phuket, and Madagascar are considered potential tourism destinations.
In 2020, the Maldives became a prime example of the tourism industry’s success as it remains open to visitors from all countries, despite the pandemic. Taking advantage of more than 1,000 isolated resorts dotted around nearly 200 islands, the resorts in the Maldives have launched special packages with private transportation, independent services, and healthcare activities for a whole month at a high cost, without having to undergo a two-week quarantine at the hotel.
Recently, Phuket in Thailand has also introduced a quarantine package at the Sri Panwa Phuket Luxury Pool Villa Hotel and hopes that the programme will become a model to help revitalise Thailand’s tourism industry.
Nearly 60 wealthy tourists from Europe became the first to experience this package – they were picked up on charter flights, then spent 14 days of isolation experience at their private villa before starting their journey around the island.
With many beautiful and isolated islands, Vietnam is also considered to have many favourable conditions to develop tourism products such as vaccine tourism or isolation tourism. Representatives of many Vietnamese travel businesses said that they would be willing to try out these new tourism products, but if they received sufficient support from the authorities and major domestic tourism service groups.